Let’s acknowledge that the country has a raft of serious problems to deal with and that high on that list is its $1 trillion budget deficit. In addition, economic growth is slow, gun violence seems epidemic and, after 11 years, our troops remain in Afghanistan. There is plenty of work to be done.
So why in the world do Republicans want to manufacture a crisis over the federal debt limit? It makes no sense. More than that, it’s reckless.
Republicans, evidently including Rep. Chris Collins of Clarence, see the need to increase the debt limit as leverage to force spending cuts. But that strategy is wrong from just about every perspective.
First of all, there is no leverage. President Obama has made clear that he will not negotiate while Republicans hold a gun to the national economy and the millions of Americans who depend on Social Security, veterans benefits and other federal payments. That takes away the leverage. Now, it is simply Republicans threatening to upend the economy and ruin the nation’s creditworthiness.
Second, the vote is to pay for bills that Congress and various presidents have put on the national credit card, for better or worse. It has nothing to do with spending going forward, on which Republicans and Democrats, alike, should be cautious. The notion that the United States will borrow money and then balk at repaying it – because of an unrelated political dispute – is not only offensive to national pride but destructive of the country’s reputation and, in case it needs to be said, hardly conservative.
Third, if Republicans force a new recession on the country and impoverish millions of Americans, the party’s standing will take a beating that may take decades to overcome. Republicans may think they are doing God’s work, but Americans understand about zealots and their inability to make reasoned decisions. They lost the presidency and seats in both houses of Congress last year when a party with a more rational approach to the nation’s business would likely have made gains. If they like the political wilderness, a vote to sabotage the economy shows the way.
We supported significant deficit spending as this historic recession took hold. Without it, banks would have failed, credit markets would have frozen and untold millions more Americans would have lost their jobs, including police officers, firefighters and teachers. Collins, then Erie County executive, would have had a hard time balancing his budget.
At some point, though, prudence demands restraint in new spending. Republicans should push for that, and Democrats need to be open to it, at the risk of their own reputations. But Republicans can’t save the economy by burning down the edifice where all Americans live.