With its vote to suspend the legal limit on the nation’s borrowing, the House of Representatives pulled the United States back from the brink of default. As the Bipartisan Policy Center predicted and the Treasury Department affirmed, we were at least three weeks away from hitting the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling. The House vote is a good thing for the global economy. And it’s a good thing for the overall conversation on spending.
Up until Republicans figured out that President Obama meant what he said about not negotiating over the debt ceiling, the GOP kept mixing apples and oranges. Republicans said that they would refuse to “give the president a blank check on spending” by raising the debt ceiling. Never mind that such a raise was needed to pay for bills already incurred by Congress, not future expenditures. To hold the national and global economies hostage over this nonsense was foolish.
“This shift though shows that … [Republicans] realize the political and economic pain they would have caused by using the debt limit as their Waterloo,” Gabriel Horwitz of the centrist think tank Third Way told me in an e-mail over the weekend when the first seeds of today’s House action took root. “Unfortunately [nearly four] months won’t do wonders for long-term certainty, but this at least gives Congress time to have the fight over spending/cuts using the sequester rather than the debt limit.”
Maya MacGuineas of the Campaign for a Responsible Federal Budget and the power behind “Campaign to Fix the Debt” agreed. “The debt ceiling is not the right action-forcing moment on which to negotiate — the … [continuing resolution] and sequester make more sense,” she told me via e-mail.
Yes, there must be an open and vigorous debate over this nation’s spending. Entitlements must be a part of the conversation. And so should all those ineffective, inefficient and redundant programs that drain the treasury but have powerful patrons who ensure their survival. But this conversation should be held without the threat of default hanging over head.
With today’s vote, this vital debate will now take place over the looming deadlines for the continuing resolution and the cuts in the sequester. If Congress can’t get its act together or if Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on what to do to rein in spending, then prepare for a government shutdown. It would be inconvenient and perhaps painful for many Americans. But it would be nothing compared to default.
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