Rising Above the Debt Ceiling Debate

July 19, 2011

Published in the Palo Alto Daily News and Politico.

By Rep. Anna G. Eshoo

On August 2nd the Treasury will no longer be able to pay our nation's obligations. Every responsible economist will tell you the same thing: If we fail to raise the debt ceiling, the result will be economic catastrophe.

Here are some facts.

Without immediate action to raise the debt ceiling, the government will be forced to delay payments on federal obligations we already owe. It means failing to pay our troops, delaying Social Security checks, and issuing IOU's instead of Medicare payments to hospitals and doctors. Default would impact 70 million Americans, and it would send a signal to the world that the U.S. Treasury Bond is no longer the world's most reliable investment, endangering the savings of every American.

President Ronald Reagan put it best in 1983: "The full consequences of a default — or even the serious prospect of default — by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate. Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and the value of the dollar in exchange markets. The Nation can ill afford to allow such a result."

Raising the debt ceiling is about making good on our past obligations ... paying the expenses we've already incurred. It's why Congress adjusted the debt ceiling 17 times under President Reagan; 4 times under President George H.W. Bush; 8 times under President Clinton; 7 times under President George W. Bush; and 3 times under President Obama.

Coupled with the debt ceiling is addressing the nation's debt and deficit, which each of us is justifiably concerned about. They weigh heavily on our collective well-being, and if left unaddressed, will dim the promise of America for us and for future generations. I'm committed to a balanced, bipartisan approach to deficit reduction. It should be fair to the middle class and retirees, and it should spur economic growth. It must cut unsustainable spending and close corporate loopholes, end subsidies and produce some revenue.

So, how did we get here?

Over the past decade, Congress passed two rounds of Bush tax cuts costing $1 trillion, and we're waging wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that have already cost $2 trillion. All were deficit-financed, i.e., charged to the national credit card. When I first came to Congress in 1993, we passed the Deficit Reduction Act. The plan eliminated the deficit and paved the way for a decade of surpluses and economic prosperity, cutting spending and raising revenue. We balanced our books then, and we can do it again.

So, what should we do?

I recently surveyed my constituents about how best to cut spending. Their answers were more insightful than a lot of what I hear politicians saying. Here's what they suggested:

• Close Tax Loopholes and Eliminate Subsidies: We need to close loopholes that encourage companies to ship jobs overseas and eliminate subsidies for agriculture and oil companies.

• Military Spending: According to a report by the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Defense spends $249 billion on programs that are wasteful and inefficient every year.

• Bush Tax Cuts: Borrowing trillions of dollars to pay for a tax cut for the top 2% of Americans has never made sense to me. They have proven to cost us mightily and have not fulfilled the original purpose of creating jobs.

Medicare has serious problems and it's essential to "bend the curve" of spending. But finding cost savings in the system is different from dismantling the guarantee of healthcare coverage for 80,000 seniors in my District. Social Security's Trust Fund can be extended and strengthened as it has been many times in the past. But putting these programs on the chopping block to appease those obstructing a debt ceiling extension is unacceptable. Reform them, and save money.

Ensuring that our country pays its bills isn't a gift to President Obama or an endorsement of his agenda. It's a nonpartisan, patriotic responsibility shared by everyone in Congress. My hope is that in the days ahead, the needs of our country will prevail over parties and ideology.

I refuse to accept that my America will be a deadbeat nation.