House Republicans backed off their reckless idea of tying an increase in the federal debt limit to spending cuts and, in doing so, came up with a pretty good other idea: They want to cut off the paychecks in either chamber if it fails to approve a budget this year.
The House, controlled by Republicans, has passed budgets in each of the past two years. The Senate, controlled by Democrats, has failed to pass a budget in nearly four years.
We like this idea, just as we liked the idea of withholding paychecks from New York State legislators when they failed to adopt a budget by the April 1 deadline. One fundamental task of legislators is to approve a budget, and to do it on time. When they refuse to meet that obligation, they should be penalized.
That’s far better than penalizing taxpayers, which is what Republicans were prepared to do by linking an increase in the debt limit to reductions in spending. Although there is an apparent connection between spending and debt, this linkage is false. Republicans were threatening to not repay debts they had helped to create, threatening the economy, the country’s credit rating and its reputation as a reliable partner.
Their new plan – or, rather, their first new plan – was to raise the debt limit for three months while seeking to force Senate Democrats to produce a budget. Last week, Republicans took a different approach designed to help them avoid an intraparty fight over raising the debt limit. Instead of taking that straightforward approach, their new idea is simply to declare that the debt limit “shall not apply” from the date of passage until mid-May.
Only in Washington. The debt limit exists. It’s written into law. But to avoid airing their dirty laundry in public – again – Republicans simply want to declare that the existing law doesn’t apply. For a few months.
It’s a bad approach. Republicans should do what is necessary, and what members of both parties have done in the past: Raise the debt limit to pay what Washington has already spent. There’s no value in pretending this is something it’s not; indeed, it’s deceitful. We spent the money; we must pay the debt. That ought to be a straightforward transaction.
At that point, Republicans will have the standing to debate future spending, looking for responsible ways to secure Medicare and Social Security while reducing costs wherever possible, including military spending. And since they are members of a government that cannot function without compromise, they should be prepared to do that.
And they should push the idea that members of either chamber will lose their paychecks if they don’t produce a budget. Senate Democrats say they’re planning to craft a budget this year, anyway, but a little insurance never hurt. If they really want to be bold, they can require both chambers to agree on a budget or forfeit pay. That ought to prompt some serious discussion.