While last week's editorial on the merits of a Balanced Budget Amendment promotes a desirable objective, it would have been better had The Washington Times not equated the failure to lift the debt limit to the functional equivalent of defaulting on U.S. debt ("Use the Constitution to cut spending," Comment & Analysis, Thursday).
Failure to lift the debt ceiling could result in a default if the government's money managers choose to allow it, but a more likely result is that debt service would have the highest claim on available government revenues, with the remaining trillions available for all other purposes.
When the likes of Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Chris Van Hollen lament the supposed disaster of a failure to lift the debt ceiling, the rest of us can be fairly confident that keeping the ceiling at its present limit is the more desirable policy.
Simply put, not raising the debt ceiling will necessarily impose the kind of discipline on federal spending that elected and unelected officials of both parties seem unwilling or unable to impose. The process of passing a Balanced Budget Amendment through Congress and the states is simply too protracted to help us deal with the crisis that exists in the here and now.
This isn't to deny the obvious: Not raising the debt ceiling while continuing to service the debt would result in unprecedented, even draconian, cuts in government spending that would force a fundamental reappraisal of the role of the federal government in American life. It most likely would mean the disappearance of whole agencies - if not departments - of the government. Except for special-interest groups, who would mourn the loss of the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Education? How about the Small Business Administration? All 50 states have departments that deal with education, environmental issues and economic development, so let the states handle them without the duplication at the federal level.
Rep. Paul Ryan's Medicare plan might need to be implemented much sooner than even he has advocated. Medicaid almost immediately would have to be transformed into a block grant to states; unemployment insurance would need to be converted virtually overnight into job-training programs administered by the states. Even Social Security and Medicare might need to be means-tested more or less immediately to reduce federal outlays in the near term.
Federal employment across all departments and agencies would have to be slashed; salaries and benefits across the board all need to be reduced. The Pentagon could not be exempt, nor could the legions of contractors and consultants who feed at the federal trough. Nation-building overseas would no longer be the responsibility of U.S. taxpayers. Yes, there would be pain, dislocation and a spike in unemployment, but better that than the ruinous collapse of the economy and even the nation that trillion-dollar deficits and more portend.
Not increasing the debt limit might be our last, best and only hope for reining in the federal government.
Ocean Pines, Md.
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