On Aug. 5, credit rating agency Standard & Poor's downgraded the creditworthiness of the United States one notch from the top-shelf AAA credit rating to AA+ with a negative outlook.
Think about that for a moment, because it's worth repeating. The full faith and credit of the United States of America -- the richest, most prosperous, most powerful country on the planet -- was called into question. To say this was an unprecedented event would be an incredible understatement.
Aside from the negative repercussions on our economy, the threat to our national security and the international humiliation that has ensued, what is most upsetting about our recent downgrade is that this was a catastrophe that could have been avoided.
Since taking office, President Obama has been on a relentless spending binge, driving up the deficit and debt at an unprecedented pace. In fact, during his first 20
months in office, deficit spending was an astounding $1.46 trillion -- more than the combined deficits accrued under his four predecessors during their first 20 months in office.
With our national debt now set to soar past $16 trillion by the end of 2012 and unbridled federal budget deficits scheduled for the foreseeable future, we have known for a long time that our pristine AAA credit rating was in jeopardy.
And yet, Washington was not able to stop our country's march toward downgrade.
Much has been said of the heated rhetoric and political gamesmanship that played out in Washington, D.C., during the debate to raise the debt ceiling. As a member of the House of Representatives and, more importantly, as a U.S. citizen, I shared the public's frustration with the way things played out on cable television and on the front pages of newspapers across the country.
Like you, I was frustrated with the closed-door discussions and secret meetings conducted under the cover of darkness. I was upset with the Senate's failure to pass a budget for the last two years.
Not only was the debt-ceiling debate a national embarrassment, it was a lost opportunity. It was a lost opportunity to finally address our country's addiction to spending and debt as a means of heading off an all-but-certain downgrade to the U.S. credit rating.
It was a lost opportunity to free our economy from the shackles of deficits and debt to spur robust job creation and long-term growth.
While the final product that came to the House floor for a vote was a step in the right direction, it was hardly the resolution I was hoping to come out of this process, which is why I ultimately voted against it.
Aside from an insufficient amount of spending cuts, the threat of tax hikes and a lack of attention given to passage of a balanced budget amendment, what is most unfortunate about this solution is that it doesn't address the exploding costs of our entitlement programs, which are by far the greatest threat to the long-term health of the U.S. credit rating.
Solution, not a deal
The American people wanted to see us come up with an actual solution to address our fiscal crisis, not another "backroom deal" rushed through Congress at the last minute. More importantly, they didn't want to see us tinkering around the edges without adequately addressing the drivers of our debt or implementing budget process reforms to avoid these types of crises in the future.
That is why I was such a vocal supporter of the Republican Study Committee's Cut, Cap and Balance approach to raising the debt ceiling. Not only was it the right prescription to address our country's fiscal crisis and put us on a sustainable path into the future, it was the only plan on the table that took the necessary steps to avoid a downgrade.
Faced with a debt crisis of epic proportions, my RSC colleagues and I knew that in order to avoid a downgrade we had no other choice but to start sending immediate signals to the markets and the world that we were serious about spending and debt reform. And to show we were serious, we knew we needed to put skin in the game in the form of immediate spending cuts today, caps on spending tomorrow and a balanced budget amendment to ensure we never have face this problem again in the future.
It's unfortunate that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid chose to table the Cut, Cap and Balance proposal. Not only did it pass the House with bipartisan support, but a CNN poll found that two-thirds of the American public supported it as a solution to raising the debt ceiling. Perhaps if Reid had given it the attention it deserved, we could have forged a bipartisan solution to raising the debt ceiling that actually avoided a downgrade to the U.S. credit rating.
Despite Congress's recent inability to forge a compromise that truly addresses the problem at hand, all is not lost. As an eternal optimist, I believe we still have a chance to change the trajectory of our country's race towards financial ruin.
While I was obviously disappointed to hear of the S&P downgrade and would have preferred if we weren't downgraded at all, I can't help but think there might be a silver lining. Perhaps now, after being downgraded by S&P and facing the threat of more downgrades to come from other credit rating agencies, the shock to the system will be so great that the naysayers will be ready to make the tough decisions necessary to right our fiscal ship.