Although Republicans are insisting on approval of trillions of dollars of cuts to federal spending in exchange for an increase in the government’s debt limit, raising that limit has nothing to do with new spending, according to the Senate’s top Democrat.
Rather that increase is needed to meet the government’s obligations for past borrowing approved by policymakers of both parties, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada insists.
Reid took to the Senate floor to make his remarks on Monday, the day the government hit its current debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will use a variety of accounting tricks to avoid default in the short-term, in hopes lawmakers can soon agree to the increase.
Geithner and others have warned that a default, the first in U.S. history, could have “catastrophic” effects on the struggling economy, Reid notes.
“Let’s be clear about what the debt limit does and doesn’t mean. Raising the debt limit when it’s absolutely necessary – and right now, it is – lets us pay the bills that have already come due,” he says. “We borrow a lot of money in this country. That’s not a new phenomenon, or unique to one party. It’s how America has done business for centuries. And borrowing a lot of money means we owe a lot of money. We cannot cut off our own ability to pay those debts.”
The federal government, under Republican and Democratic presidents and Congresses controlled by both parties, has borrowed heavily in the last decade to finance such things as tax cuts, as well as wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Here’s what it doesn’t mean. The emergency we enter today isn’t about a penny of new spending. It’s not about new programs or new taxes. It’s not about creating new obligations, only meeting existing ones. The debt limit is about paying what we already owe,” Reid says.
Reid criticizes Republicans and their tea party allies for looking at the debt issue through “a political lens, not an economic lens.”
“And they’re willing to risk the strength of our economy just to make a political point,” he says.
Some conservatives, particularly among the tea party, have gone so far as to oppose any increase in the debt limit. “Our message has not only been no, but hell no,” Tea Party Express chairwoman Amy Kremer is quoted as saying.
Reid responds to such opposition by saying, “We can’t afford to play these political games and trigger a default crisis that would lead to catastrophe. We can’t afford to make unrealistic demands or hold hostage policies that affect real people.”
‘A Question Of Fairness’
The majority leader reiterated his call that, if conservatives want to cut spending, they start by eliminating federal tax subsidies to the five largest oil companies.
“So this is a question of fairness – it’s about Big Oil paying its fair share,” Reid says. “It’s also a question of priorities. The people who want to keep giving their Big Oil buddies four billion taxpayer dollars a year are the same ones who want to take the social safety net away from the sick, seniors and the poor. These people kick and scream about investing in cancer research, or protecting student loans that help so many afford the rising costs of college.
“But ask them to recognize the absurdity of giving Big Oil taxpayer money it doesn’t need, and they cover their eyes and plug their ears. Ask them to defend it, and they can’t do it,” he adds.
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.