When Sen. Barack Obama was faced with raising the debt ceiling in 2006, he said, "The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. government can't pay its own bills."
Sen. Obama was right. Spending was out of control under the last president. Our deficit in 2006 was $250 billion. Sen. Obama rightly opposed raising the debt ceiling from $8.1 trillion to $8.9 trillion.
Today, our deficit has quadrupled. Our national debt is now $17 trillion, nearly double what it was when Mr. Obama refused to raise the debt ceiling under the leadership of George W. Bush.
Compared to what he was saying in 2006, some might consider the president in 2013 to be a "bizarro world" Obama.
When Republicans suggest debt increases should be offset by spending cuts, President Obama paints us as extremists. He portrays attempts at fiscal responsibility as irresponsible and reckless. This president continues to demagogue — frightening Americans and markets into thinking that failure to raise the debt ceiling means the U.S. will default.
Debt increase or not, the United States will not default. We have never defaulted. A responsible leader would be trying to assuage any such fears.
We bring in $250 billion in tax revenues each month (the amount of our entire 2006 deficit when Sen. Obama opposed a debt-ceiling increase). Our current interest payment on our debt is about $20 billion per month. We have more than enough in tax revenue to pay that interest. There's absolutely no reason why we would ever default.
Of course, there's absolutely no reason why we should have to close down World War II memorials during a government shutdown either, but theatrics seem to be this administration's stock in trade.
Consider how the Democrats have continued to block the Full Faith and Credit Act. Passed by the House in May, this bill would explicitly prevent the federal government from ever defaulting by mandating that even if the debt ceiling isn't raised, the Treasury must pay the nation's debt. This way we could actually debate and try to fix our debt problem without the illusory threat of default every time the issue is raised.
But this administration needs the threat of default. This is why Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has prevented the Senate version of the Full Faith and Credit Act from ever moving forward and why Mr. Obama has threatened to veto it if it passed.
This administration isn't worried about default. It is worried about losing the threat of default as a bargaining tool. Like the World War II Memorial "shutdown," it is pure political theatrics.
And for many Americans, it is increasingly a theater of the absurd. A recent Fox News poll showed that 62 percent of Americans agree with raising the debt ceiling, but only if it includes significant spending cuts. Last month's Reason-Rupe poll found that 70 percent of Americans — including a majority of Democrats — oppose raising the debt ceiling.
A failure to raise the debt ceiling would not cause default, but it would force us to balance the budget. It would perhaps make Washington politicians begin to take the disastrous spending problem seriously. Everyone promises to address the spending problem every time they raise the debt ceiling, but no one ever does.
As Nick Gillespie noted at The Daily Beast, "All Obama can talk about are 'clean' [continuing resolutions] and 'clean' debt-limit increases. This is what my colleague Matt Welch calls 'junky logic,' the sort of magical thinking particularly strong among addicts who are always 'gonna kick [the habit] tomorrow.' Really, man, this is the last time."
But it is never the last time when we increase our debt limit. Since 1960, Congress has raised the debt ceiling 78 times. Yet, spending is never curbed. Americans are tired of being told that fiscal irresponsibility is the right thing to do.
People outside of Washington understand that endless debt is not the path to stability or prosperity. They understand that it's time to cut up the credit cards.
In 2006, Mr. Obama said constantly raising the debt ceiling meant that "Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better."
I agree. Mr. Obama was right then, yet today, he represents a real failure in leadership. Americans do deserve better. So does the next generation.
Rand Paul is a Republican senator from Kentucky.