As the clock ticks inexorably to default, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) writes in the Wall Street Journal today that he won’t vote to raise the national debt ceiling unless it is coupled with major reforms. In theory, I’m with him. Unfortunately, with the limit estimated to be reached between April 15 and May 31, not to mention the expiration of the continuing resolution on April 8, there’s not enough time for what Rubio proposes to work in practice.
Without question, something must be done about the red-ink-stained trajectory of U.S. debt. Rubio’s piece lists a few proposals meant to bring sanity back to budgeting and debt:
Rep. Dave Camp has already introduced proposals to lower and simplify our tax rates, close loopholes, and make permanent low rates on capital gains and dividends. . . .
Sen. Rand Paul, meanwhile, has a bill that would require an up-or-down vote on “major” regulations, those that cost the economy $100 million or more. . . .
To get our debt under control, we must reform and save our entitlement programs. . . .
Finally, instead of simply raising the debt limit, we should reassure job creators by setting a firm statutory cap on our public debt-to-GDP ratio. A comprehensive plan would wind down our debt to sustainable levels of approximately 60% within a decade and no more than half of the economy shortly thereafter.
“This is exactly the right thing to ask for (though a more balanced and realistic package would include revenue increases as well),” MacGuiness responded, “but it may be too much to link to the debt ceiling that is approaching so quickly.” McConaghy agreed: “There are some good ideas [regulatory reform] in here and some very bad ones [balanced budget amendment],” he said in an e-mail, “but pegging his vote to this entire laundry list isn’t remotely realistic.”
Both MacGuiness and McConaghy point to the opportunity the looming debt-limit crisis presents. “I think the debt targets [Rubio] lays out are the right approach to controlling the debt in the interim while policymakers use more time to develop the details of a comprehensive plan,” MacGuiness wrote me. “Rubio is right that the debt ceiling vote provides an critical opportunity to start to get our fiscal affairs in order,” McConaghy noted, “but the ideas he lays out are either wrong or will take more time than we’ve got before the next extension comes due.”
“A more responsible, and realistic approach,” McConaghy continued, “would be to include some sort of condition in the debt ceiling vote that establishes statutory debt targets along the lines of what’s being worked on by the Gang of 6, targets on entitlement reform, or a commitment to bring some form of Bowles-Simpson to the floor for a vote."
All smart and worthy goals. But MacGuiness is clear on what must happen no matter what. “I have to emphasize, we must raise the debt ceiling,” she wrote. “Too many no votes would tank the global economy.”
Under normal circumstances, the looming debt-ceiling deadline would be just what Washington needs to get it to do some semblance of what Rubio, MacGuiness, McConaghy and others propose. Unfortunately, Congress is now populated by new members who couldn’t care less about default and who think the United States could use the shock therapy that could come with default. And the leadership that once promised to have an adult conversation on the debt ceiling issues now lives in fear of them.
As a result, I’m still having a hard time seeing how this ends well.