Column: Debt-limit increase an awful choice
By DISTRICT 26B REP. MIKE BENSON
ROCHESTER — With a two-year federal budget deal passed and signed into law just before Christmas, it would seem that bipartisanship has returned to Washington. Leadership from both parties are portraying the deal as a sign of the good things to come. But, really the only agreement is shutting down the government is not good for the image of either party. Just after the last shutdown, Congress registered is lowest rating in history.
Republican leadership is more than pleased to keep the focus on the Obamacare disaster since it was blamed most for the last shutdown. Calling out the president and legislators like Tim Walz for promising Americans that they would be able to keep their insurance policies and doctors — but really knowing that millions would lose those choices — will remain a central theme of the Republican strategy. There is good cause to maintain this strategy since even after Republican attempts to repeal Obamacare 41 times, thousands of southern Minnesotans and millions of Americans are still being negatively impacted by President Obama’s signature legislation.
However, looming large when legislators return from the Christmas break is a vote on increasing the debt limit. The December budget deal will increase the deficit at for least the next three years in a row from the previously agreed-upon 2011 Budget Control Act (sequestration agreement). The new deal blows the caps off the previous deal, so discretionary spending actually increases next year by $45 billion to $1.012 trillion. Any thought of this budget deal being real fiscal constraint is shear folly. The Congressional Budget Office projects it will only ultimately decease the debt by about $7 billion — and only in the out years of a 10-year calculation. What Congress is betting on is that by spending now and cutting later, we will not slow down the current economic progress and begin to realize savings later. After demolishing the last deal that was suppose to reign in spending, why should we believe they won’t blow this deal in another two years?
We have been accumulating almost an additional $1 trillion in annual debt and, under the new agreement, we will still be borrowing at least $1 trillion each of the next two years. If the economy grows at the current rate, we can expect the debt to grow from the current $17.25 trillion to $19.25 trillion. To service that level of debt will cost almost a $1 trillion in interest to be paid by hardworking taxpayers each and every year.
Of course, the hope of both sides is for the economy to grow and for revenues to exceed projections. But, if there is a larger than projected expansion of the economy, interest rates will also rise, and the interest paid on the debt will rise sharply, too, as new bonds are sold to cover the old — thus increasing the cost of the debt.
For any representative to pretend this budget deal will reduce the national debt and is somehow good for you and me is at least an insult and borders on total incompetence. (I’m not even addressing how this deal hurts veterans.) Future legislators and their actions can not be encumbered by past legislation. Unless legislators are elected that truly understand how devastating this level of debt will be for the future of our nation, we will continue on the path to becoming the next Greece. For many Minnesotans, that would mean a return to devastating levels of unemployment and economic uncertainty. We can not afford the business-as-usual solutions that have gotten us to this place. It will take a new level of political courage not seen currently in our capital.
Few political commentators expect the same level of rancor experienced in the last debt-limit debate because so many voted to pass the new budget deal. It would be hard to believe that those who voted in the affirmative did not know what their vote meant to the national debt, or did they? Can we any longer trust our elected officials who say they have to pass the bill before they can know what is in it? It is time for the president and Congress to put our fiscal house in order by cutting wasteful spending and allowing the American spirit of hard work, creativity and innovation to put us back on top.
Mike Benson is a Republican candidate for Minnesota 1st Congressional District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.