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BIGELOW: Knocking fiscal sense back into government

Why we need to hit the debt ceiling

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How can senators and congressmen in Washington go home and tell their kids and grandkids they have a bright future ahead of them? This is a serious, bipartisan question. Washington politicians have consistently failed to tackle the spending problem in this country, and these supposed leaders have proved they are willing to steal nearly half of every dollar spent in this country from the future income of their children and grandchildren.

During the last five years, spending has doubled. While President Obama isn't the only culprit, he's the most serious offender. The president claimed he would "cut the deficit in half" in his first term, yet his administration has averaged deficits that are nearly 3 times that of his predecessor. The "fiscal cliff" deal, which has a 1-to-41 ratio of spending cuts to tax hikes, is expected to add $4 trillion to our deficit over the next 10 years.

No serious attempt has been made by either party to balance the budget in the last four years. Let's face it -- it's been nearly four years since the Senate even passed a budget.

Yesterday, the House passed a bill that suspends the debt ceiling for four months, while ignoring and not cutting spending. The bill forces the Senate to pass a budget, but without required cuts it might as well say, "We want to stop stealing our children's money, but not until tomorrow." Unfortunately, tomorrow never comes.

Mr. Obama has stated that he will be unwilling to put spending cuts on the table as part of a deficit-reduction package. Every president since Ronald Reagan, including Mr. Obama, has included deficit reduction in a debt ceiling bargain. If Republicans want to force Mr. Obama to come to the negotiating table, they must be willing to leverage the danger of hitting the debt ceiling.

In a recent interview with Business Insider, Sen. Rand Paul, a rising star and possible 2016 presidential contender, said, "The only real way to have leverage with the debt ceiling is to convince people that we are not going to default on our debt." This couldn't be any more true.

Mr. Obama, the Democrats and their media allies are trying to spook the public into believing there will be a cataclysmic meltdown if we don't raise the debt ceiling, claiming we would "default" on our debt payments. Mr. Obama has even said seniors might not receive their Social Security checks if the government doesn't act.

As if generational theft weren't bad enough, Mr. Obama and his allies are being dishonest. It's nearly impossible for the government to default.

If America hits the debt ceiling, we would still have sufficient revenue to pay for all of our mandatory spending. Next year, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the federal government will collect $2.6 trillion. The total cost of mandatory spending and interest payments will be $2.3 trillion -- $300 billion less than our projected revenue.

Certainly, this means Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, national defense and our interest payments can all be paid for, with $300 billion left over for discretionary spending.

Unless the Treasury Department acts irrationally, it's impossible to default. Granted, hitting the ceiling won't be an easy fix -- far from it.

A limit of $300 billion on discretionary spending will mean a partial shutdown of some less significant agencies. Yet this only needs to happen until Mr. Obama and Congress can agree on a long-term deficit reduction package. The U.S. government has undergone partial shutdowns before, and while it will be painful, it's also necessary. The federal government's deficit spending of the last decade is simply unsustainable.

If we don't act, what kind of future does that leave for young Americans? Frankly, it leaves one of fiscal enslavement. Staying on the current trajectory, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that our nation's entire budget will be consumed by entitlement programs and interest payments by 2025. Beyond that, entitlement programs alone will consume our budget by 2045.

Staying on the current path means that future generations won't be able to afford a strong national defense or even the salaries of their elected congressmen. They will be spending their prime years paying massive taxes toward entitlement programs and interest payments alone.

That's why we need to force Congress to pass a balanced budget or use the debt ceiling as leverage for a plan which balances it in the near future. By making the painful but responsible choices now, future generations will be able to enjoy the same financial freedom we have today. It's the responsible and moral thing for our elected leaders in Washington to do. If our nation's leaders aren't willing to make those tough decisions, then they have a moral obligation to explain to their children and grandchildren why they'll inherit a diminished America.

Celia Bigelow, age 22, is the campus director for American Majority Action.

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