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No (!!) “Clean” Debt Ceiling Bill

     The next major vote in Congress will obviously be whether to increase the Federal debt ceiling.  This is a pivotal point in American fiscal history and policy that could have wide-ranging effects for years to come.  Today, Eric Cantor has fired the first shot and announced that Republicans will insist on structural changes to the budget process or budget cuts in exchange for votes to raise the debt ceiling.  We have heard these “threats” before.  You can only threaten so many times before the threat, if not followed through upon, ceases to carry any weight.  It is what any parent knows when correcting a child’s behavior.  If they do not follow through, the child learns that the threats are just idle words and they continue the bad behaviors which eventually get out of control.  Then the parent is left standing there with shrugged shoulders saying, “Where did we go wrong?”  That is what has happened in the past with our fiscal house.  Repeated increases in the debt ceiling coupled with uncontrolled spending as a result has created this mess we are now in.  It is beyond time to end this insanity.

     So, no Obama and no Democratic “leadership.”  Getting a clean bill must be off the table.  Leaving aside spending cuts which will prove contentious anyway, we need to first lay down the substrate upon which to put our financial house back in order and on track towards fiscal sanity and reliability.  So, I would argue that extracting further budget cuts through cosmetic demands to cut funding for NPR or Planned Parenthood be put on hold in favor of extracting concessions on structural reforms.  This has the added positive political effect of perception.  That is, the Republicans cannot be viewed as playing politics with the debt ceiling or accused of attacking poor old grandma and the like through specific program cuts.

      Secondly, let’s take a balanced budget amendment off the table for now.  Perhaps, that could be a legislative stand-alone initiative.  Yes, most states have balanced budget amendments.  Yet as most informed residents of those states realize, they are nothing but accounting gimmickry tricks when all is said and done.  Honestly- if balanced budget requirements through amendments were so great, then why are the majority of states with these requirements showing budget deficits?  In the end, the budgets are pieces of paper and little else.  They have very little to do with the cold hard cash shortfalls.  As general targets, they are great.  But still, there are ways around the system- stealing from Peter to pay Paul, short-term gimmickry and the like.  If it happens regularly at the state level, does anyone really believe it won’t happen at the federal level?  Balanced budget amendments, indeed an actual functional balanced budget, is a Utopian ideal and we do not live in utopia.  Despite calls for such an amendment, it will not create utopia!

     Instead, the two best ideas are statuotory spending caps that are automatically triggered based on actual federal revenues.  Also, every department (some may argue, even Defense) should be on the table.  Let the policy wonks work out the details and the priorities.  A good start would be costly and ineffective and market interfering agricultural subsidies.  It is at this point that funding for Planned Parenthood or the FCC or NPR or whatever can be addressed.  Amtrak subsidies are another good place to start.  Regardless of the programs affected, these statuotory caps and triggering mechanisms are a must.  They are based upon reality, not some abstract estimation of anticipated revenue.

     Secondly, Congress can require a two-thirds vote for any future debt limit increase or tax increase.  Usually, two-thirds votes are reserved for issues of vital national concern- treaties with foreign countries, veto over-rides, impeachments and the like.  A very strong case can be made that tax increases and debt ceiling limits are a vital national concern.  Hell, to hear Democrats talk about the debt ceiling and insistence on a “clean” bill, they are doing the public relations work for Republicans on that issue.  If it really is imperative that we not “play” with the debt ceiling vote because it vitally important, placing the “full faith and credit of the United States” at risk, then raising that debt ceiling limit is worthy of a two-thirds vote in the future.  Hopefully, future votes would not be needed.  Requiring a like vote for tax increases would also be part and parcel of the package.  However, ironically, this proviso would be less “clean,” to use Democratic parlance, since they are a crafty lot.  For example, do we require such a vote only for income taxes or do we exclude capital gains tax increases, or gasoline tax increases?  What about new taxes on, for example, internet sales (God, please stay advised of this development)?  What about eliminating or decreasing tax credits or deductions- do they “qualify” as a tax increase?  Do we just hone in on marginal rate increases? 

    Much of what Governor Chris Christie is attempting in my home state of New Jersey is laying the structural foundation for future fiscal sanity in the state.  He is doing it by changing not only the liberal, union-controlled tax-and-spend mentality and culture in Trenton, but also by laying a foundation to put future spending and expenditures on a more sound footing brick by brick.  Our Republican leaders, and Democrats truly dedicated to fiscal sanity- not just lip service from the likes of Barack Obama- need to do the same at the federal level.  The time for words is long past.  It now time for real, tangible, concrete action.  Towards those ends, capitulation to Democratic fear-mongering regarding the debt limit ceiling must be avoided and, dare I say, ignored.  It is not playing politics with something potentially dire.  It is, simply put, sanity.  For Obama and company to insist on a “clean” bill without these reforms, it just a continuation of the same old, same old.  For those reasons, I say an emphatic “NO!” to a clean bill.  Let’s show real, true leadership and reclaim this country for every American today and in the future.

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