EDITORIAL: Hungry alligators await as the U.S. Treasury is running out of gimmicks

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Republicans are retreating from Capitol Hill in mortal fear of being called nasty names, such as “obstructionist” and “partisan” and “naysayer,” and the White House, which understands take-no-prisoner politics, is pressing the advantage. We’re headed for more spending, and lots of it.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was the messenger Wednesday, pleading for more government and more government debt. He’s running out of gimmicks to create the appearance that the federal books are in order. He’s $130 billion short in “extraordinary measures,” compared to what he could do last year. “Based on our best and most recent information,” Mr. Lew wrote to House Speaker John A. Boehner, “we believe that the Treasury is more likely to exhaust those measures in late February.”

That’s a bean-counter’s version of a threat. In plain English, Mr. Lew is saying: “This is a nice country we’ve got here. Wouldn’t want to see anything bad to happen to it, like default. We have to borrow some more money from China, if we know what’s good for us.”

Borrowing more money from China, if we can get it, may not be what’s good for us, but the Republicans aren’t likely to say nay. They’ve already caved to the administration demand to suspend the debt limit through Feb. 7, which means President Obama can borrow any amount up to the budgetary caps, or limits. The December budget deal raised those caps, enabling an additional $63 billion in spending. The president recognizes a white flag when he sees one. As long as he keeps asking for more, he’ll keep getting more.

Each dollar he is enabled to borrow today diminishes the prosperity of future generations, but that’s their problem, since we’ll be safely dead by then, and a problem for some other president in a distant time. Mr. Obama will have secured his legacy as the world’s most profligate man.

So far, he has written $18 trillion in checks with just $12 trillion in the bank. These checks don’t bounce, but land in a pile marked “national debt,” which has grown $6.6 trillion on his watch. That’s more than the sum for all other presidents, including George W. Bush, combined. At his current rate of borrowing, Mr. Obama will leave office having taken out $9.2 trillion in loans, an amount greater than China’s entire gross domestic product.

Common sense says there soon won’t be any countries left to give us a cash advance. San Marino, Upper Volta and Lower Slobbovia can’t help. It’s only a matter of time before everyone realizes there’s no way any country, not even the United States, can repay a 14-digit loan. We’ll run out of zeroes first.

The administration isn’t even slowing down. The White House will deliver its annual wish list to Congress in March, and it will be overflowing with the usual demands for new programs and “investments” (i.e., rampant spending increases), combined with measures to help the rich pay their fair share (e.g., massive tax hikes on the middle class).

In the absence of principled opposition to such scheming, the outcome is inevitable. We’ll be stuck with an increase in spending, taxes, borrowing and debt. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says this fiscal path is “unsustainable,” which means we’re headed straight toward financial collapse.

In terms of both policy and politics, the smart thing to do would be to get on the side of spending restraint and do everything we can to nudge the nation away from a fiscal cliff overlooking the rocks below, where hungry alligators wait. Unfortunately, Republicans share Mr. Obama’s gift for avoiding the sight of anything beyond the next election. Instead of fearing the electoral consequences of Democratic mudslinging, Republicans ought to stand for restraint, and give voters a good reason to vote for them in that next election.

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