What do you do when you are gaining weight and your clothes get too tight? Some people might refuse to buy new ones, hoping the tight fit will keep them from eating. But if you keep overeating every day, the tight clothes will do nothing to keep your weight down. They’ll just be painful.
Not raising the federal debt limit is the equivalent of wearing tight pants. Our fiscal problem is too much spending. The ballooning federal debt is a symptom of the problem. Just like tight clothes won’t end the weight gain, refusing to raise the debt ceiling will not solve our fiscal problems - it will just be painful. For everyone.
We have real work to do to ensure the American public understands the true depths of the budget crisis. Polls show too many Americans think that we can balance the budget by slashing foreign aid and eliminating waste, fraud and abuse. We have not done the job of shedding light on the real issue - that our government has made too many commitments to too many people and can’t afford to meet those commitments in the future.
Republicans won Americans’ votes last fall by vowing to come to Washington and talk truth to power. Because Republicans have been adamantly focused on being responsible truth-tellers, President Obama has had to move to the ground on which the Republicans want to debate. In February, he proposed a budget that trimmed the debt by $1 trillion over 10 years, and last week, just two months later, he embraced a goal of cutting the debt by $4 trillion. While Republicans dispute his vision of how to do that, they deserve credit for moving the debate from “whether” to “how.”
However, that momentum and credibility will be lost if Republicans pretend that voting “no” on the debt-ceiling increase will actually rein in Washington spending. How would that vote change the out-of-control growth in entitlement spending? How would it reform the tax code to reward businesses for hiring more innovators to deliver world-beating products instead of rewarding them for hiring more tax lawyers to look for loopholes?
A “no” vote on the debt-ceiling increase is not a way to avoid that hard work, and we shouldn’t let anyone think it is. In order to get big-government liberals to come to the table and make the hard and necessary decisions to re-establish fiscal sanity, Republicans have to continue to be honest. And it is just plain dishonest to say that refusing to raise the debt ceiling will help put our fiscal house in order.
Instead, it would impose real pain on all Americans. We are able to finance our debt at very low costs today because people around the world trust that they will be paid back. Triggering a fiscal crisis would send those borrowing costs up - raising the cost of financing our national debt, raising the cost of credit for every consumer, making business loans more expensive and stalling our economy.
Voting against raising the debt ceiling will only make the pain of our fiscal problems worse. Republicans have told the American people that there’s no silver bullet, and they are listening because of their frank approach on budget matters. Resorting to a gimmick like voting down the debt-ceiling increase will look like nothing more than the same old “politics over policy” attitude in Washington that got us into this problem in the first place.
And it will divert everyone from the hard work of putting the government on a real diet.
Michele Davis, a partner at the Brunswick Group, is associated with the American Action Forum and a former Treasury official in the George W. Bush administration.