Time to Raise The Debt Ceiling

On August 2, the U.S. government will default on its debt. Obligations will no longer be met, and as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman warns, the U.S. could “plunge back into the depths of the 2008-09 financial crisis.”

This can be avoided by raising the debt ceiling, an issue that has prompted trivial legal questions and risky political games. It is time for America’s leaders to put all this aside and avert disaster.

The conflict is simple: Democrats rightfully recognize the need to raise the debt ceiling so the government won’t recklessly run out of cash and fall short of its obligations. Republicans, on the other hand, are willing to let the Treasury run dry unless they see massive cuts in the budget. Medicare, Medicaid, and education cuts are all on the table for the GOP. But, tax increases to the wealthy? Forget about it. 

That the U.S. even has a debt ceiling is a very silly concept. The government cannot spend without congressional approval anyway, so why even set a debt limit? All it does is create more bait for partisan politics. In other words, there is no reason to ask for approval twice when it is difficult enough to get it once.

Nonetheless, many legal scholars have pointed out that the debt ceiling, while certainly illogical, is also unconstitutional.

Mark Abramowicz of George Washington University Law School and Garret Epps of the University of Baltimore believe that the 14th Amendment, which states that “The validity of the public debt of the United States ... shall not be questioned,” makes the idea of the debt ceiling unconstitutional.

That may be so, but constitutionality has no place in the current debate. The Supreme Court should not have to get involved. If Congress alone cannot recognize the obvious need to raise the debt limit, then the U.S. is too politically polarized to function any further. The system should not have come to this point.

While the notion of a debt ceiling is questionable in many ways, politicians also do not take it very seriously. Without question, Republicans have used this issue to pin President Barack Obama up against the wall, forcing him to authorize irresponsible cuts just to keep the government running. But today’s Republicans are not the first to turn this debate into a political tool.

When President George W. Bush asked for an increased debt limit in 2006, one senator viciously opposed it. “Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that the buck stops here,” the senator said. That senator now ironically sits in the White House.

In the past six months, the U.S. government has once nearly shut down, and is now on the verge of running out of cash. That’s despicable. It’s time for our leaders to put aside their party affiliations and do what this country clearly needs. It shouldn’t be too much to ask to keep the government running.

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