Congressional Republicans are threatening to block an increase in the government’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling if Democrats don’t commit themselves to big additional spending cuts.
But under the House GOP’s budget resolution, drafted by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Congress would allow the debt ceiling to rise by roughly $9 trillion over the next decade.
The proposed increases don’t attract much public attention, but the numbers are huge and they are there in black and white: the “appropriate” level of debt, according to the budget resolution, would rise to $16.2 trillion in fiscal 2012, $20.2 trillion in 2017, and $23.1 trillion in 2021.
Are Republicans being hypocritical? Only a few prominent GOP leaders have said they flatly oppose any increases in federal debt. What most say they really want is a commitment to much lower spending.
There are a few prominent exceptions. Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor and a likely contender for the GOP presidential nomination, has effusively praised the Ryan plan.
At the same time, though, Pawlenty argues that Congress shouldn’t allow any increase in the debt ceiling at all. Instead, Pawlenty says, Congress should simply make sure that the government doesn’t default on its bonds and cut as much spending as necessary to avoid more borrowing.
“You gotta draw some lines in the sand,” he said during an interview on Fox News. “They should pass legislation that allows them to sequence the spending as revenues come in to make sure they don’t default and then have the debate about whatever spending can be reduced.”
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., laid out a such a plan in January. Under that scenario, though, hitting the debt ceiling would require more than $1 trillion in immediate spending cuts—a huge reduction that would disrupt everything from Social Security benefits to defense spending.
“These cuts would certainly be disruptive. That’s why I hope we can avoid this scenario,” Toomey wrote in an op-ed in January. “But it would be even worse simply to raise the debt ceiling without regaining control of federal spending.”
Most leading Republicans, however, have taken a more moderate stance. They would consent to raise the limit if it came packaged with substantial spending cuts along the lines of what they have proposed.
“With a $14 trillion national debt, I will not support an increase in the debt ceiling without real and meaningful changes in spending in the short-term and the long-term,” Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., said in a statement this week. “We’ve got to change the way we spend the people’s money.”