Last night by a vote of 285-144 the House extended the Continuing Resolution through January 15th and raised the debt ceiling through February 7th. I joined with 143 of my Republican colleagues and the rest of the South Carolina Republican delegation in opposing this measure that results in roughly another $500 billion in new debt, yet does not contain any reforms to reduce government spending, lower the increasing cost of entitlement programs or affect the Affordable Care Act.
Back in January when I first announced for Congress I argued that debt-ceiling increases should be offset with spending cuts, that we need to pay as we go and that we cannot continue on the road that we are on without catastrophic financial consequences over the long run. At a time when government borrows approximately $0.40 for every dollar it spends, I don't think it makes sense to continue to kick the can down the road...always promising to reform spending habits in the future, yet postponing action until later.
In many ways this deal actually goes in the opposite direction because the deal doesn't just raise the debt ceiling -- it suspends it! Typically debt ceilings are raised by a specific amount, up by $200 or $400 billion for example. In this case it suspends it for a time, which means Congress has given away its control of the purse strings to the President and the Treasury during this time period. To change or undo this new authority to borrow as the White House sees fit through February 7th would now take a two thirds vote from the House and Senate...and signature by the President! Obviously that's not going to happen, so Congress has literally given a blank check to an administration that has already incurred more debt than any other as the national debt has risen from $10 trillion to $16.7 trillion during the last five years!
Depending on one's philosophical perspective, it was naturally the "other" side in this debate that was being obstinate, but in fact, the debate and the issues at play are more complex. The silver lining to the cloud of inaction in Washington over the last few weeks is the triumph of the American system. While the media has sensationalized the process and people have legitimately grown weary of all the back and forth, the reality is we have a system where the minority can attempt to advance their case, and where we can have strong disagreement without bloodshed. It was Winston Churchill who noted, "The beauty of the American political system was that it always did the right thing...after exhausting every other possible remedy." While this debate has proceeded in ways that many disdain, I think the larger challenge confronting us means we have to resolve this. According to the Congressional Budget Office we are only 12 years away from reaching the point where every dollar the government spends goes to the national debt or entitlement programs. If now is not the time to get these numbers settled, then when is?
So the shutdown is over, the government is up and running again and the system worked -- but what did we learn? Three thoughts on this.
One, while it may not have been done as we many would like, asking questions is the American way. This is particularly the case on Constitutional questions, and many members in the House had them about the President's unilateral decisions in enforcing his own law. The Founding Fathers charged the executive branch with enacting whole laws, never parts of it at their discretion. The idea of corporations or members of Congress and their staffs being exempt from a law rubbed many of us the wrong way, and accordingly we fought on it.
Two, over the last 35 years there have been 53 debt limit increases, and 17 government shutdowns -- and with the exception of a handful of automatic debt extensions all were negotiated. The President clearly held the upper ground but was unusually dismissive when it came to negotiating. As a country we have differences, and lots of them - but we have sat down and ironed them out for over 200 years peaceably. While I ultimately opposed the final deal from the Senate because it didn't contain reforms, negotiating between parties is the only way to break through these stalemates and deal with the spending issues our country faces.
Three, it always comes back to the money. Washington is spending at a rate that is unsustainable, and spending problems don't get better with time. The passage of a "clean" Continuing Resolution begs its ending date and that's just 60 days away. At that point we will find ourselves right back where we have been over these past few weeks because we still haven't tackled the underlying budget issues.
Unfortunately the challenges that brought about the past few weeks and were debated through this shutdown still stand. If they are not resolved this event will serve as but a minor tremor to the larger financial shutdown that will ultimately ensue if both the financial and Constitutional issues debated over these weeks are not resolved. We have time between now and that next debate; let's hope we use it wisely.