The earth did not quake when the United States hit the debt ceiling on Dec. 31 and the government stopped borrowing to pay its bills.
Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner is taking “extreme measures” to keep the federal operations at 100 percent through Feb. 28. This sets the stage for a showdown between President Obama, who wants outlays to increase, and congressional Republicans, who want to slow down the spending.
A handful of GOP lawmakers are willing to get behind the idea of suspending unnecessary government operations to bring the budget back within realistic limits. “It may be necessary to partially shut down the government in order to secure the long-term fiscal well-being of our country, rather than plod along the path of Greece, Italy and Spain,” wrote Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, in the Houston Chronicle
The debt ceiling was last raised in August 2011, and government spending has continued its march upward. Thanks to House Speaker John A. Boehner’s demand that new borrowing be met dollar-for-dollar with spending reductions, this increase is far less than it would otherwise have been.
Mr. Obama wants to eliminate the congressional duty to set a borrowing limit. “I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they’ve already racked up,” the president said moments after the “fiscal cliff” deal passed the House on Jan. 1. He predicted “the consequences for the entire global economy would be catastrophic” if his demands were not met.
Unlike the fiscal cliff deal, Republicans have a bit more leverage, as two looming deadlines offer the possibility of forcing Uncle Sam on a diet. The latest deadline for the “automatic” $110 billion sequestration has been moved to March 1. Because the Senate continues to fail to pass a budget or appropriations bills, annual spending is handled by a continuing resolution that expires on March 27.
Instead of dealing with all these solvency issues by making the necessary reforms to out-of-control entitlement programs such as Medicare, Democrats want to take more of people’s paychecks. CBS’ Bob Schieffer asked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Sunday whether the revenue side of the debate had been “taken care of yet.” The California Democrat replied succinctly, “No. It is not.”
A few minutes later on “Face the Nation,” Mr. Schieffer asked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell about Mrs. Pelosi’s answer. “Well, it certainly underscores the voracious appetite for more taxes on the other side,” said the Kentucky Republican. “The tax issue is over. We resolved that a few days ago.”
Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell say that there will be no more tax hikes, and all the upcoming fiscal battles will be on spending alone. Unless they lay the groundwork to explain to the public how a partial shutdown of nonessential government functions is something that shouldn’t be feared, Democrats will retain the upper hand and tax-and-spend will once again win the day.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.