Senate Republicans Find their Mojo on Debt Ceiling
by Renee Parsons
In an extraordinary turn of events, five Republican Senators stepped out of the Republican Conference caucus structure to conduct an impressive press briefing to warn Democrats that the debt ceiling bill can only move forward if agreement on ‘meaningful structural reforms and underlying problems” are included. Participating were Senators Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Braun (Ind.), Rand Paul (SC), Ron Johnson (Wisc.), Rick Scott (Fla.) and Mike Lee (Utah) all of whom indicated that they are in consultation with House Republicans.
Responding to President Joe Biden who has steadfastly refused to negotiate on the single most urgent fiscal policy impasse in the last decade, Sen. Paul offered: ‘I have news for him; he absolutely will negotiate as conservatives will not vote to raise the debt ceiling without significant budget reform.”
Accusing the Republicans of holding the economy ‘hostage,’ the White House has since reaffirmed its intention to not negotiate on the debt ceiling, recalling Obama’s refusal t in 2013. As reality has shown the President’s position to be unreasonable and indefensible, a White House meeting with House and Senate Leaders will occur later this week as it remains to be seen where the starting point is other than to assure the American people there will be no default.
Almost immediately after the press briefing, Senators Lee and James Lankford (Okla) sent a letter to the President signed by twenty three Republican Senators indicating “outright opposition” to the debt ceiling without ‘federal spending cuts equal to or greater than the debt ceiling increase’. The letter reiterated Republican Conference policy that identified “meaningful structural reform” to include the Prevent Government Shutdown Act or the Full Faith and Credit Act.
At the press briefing, Sen. Cruz began with historic numbers identifying how quickly the country had been brought to the edge of bankruptcy; pointing out that during the country’s first forty two Presidents (1789-2000 – 211 years), a grand total debt of $5 Trillion had been accumulated. During Bush’s eight years in office, the debt rose from $5 Trillion to $10 Trillion (Iraq/Afghanistan wars); followed by President Barack Obama who increased the $10 Trillion debt to $20 Trillion (Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, ISIS).
During the Trump Administration, the federal debt rose $7.8 Trillion while during Biden’s first year in office, the debt increased $2.11 Trillion to $29.87 Trillion. The American Rescue Plan Act adopted in 2021 cost US taxpayers $1.9 Trillion to combat the economic downturn while including $400 billion for Covid expenses before rising to its current level of $32 Trillion (excluding interest).
Sen. Braun raised the question of a 1% interest payment on $30 Trillion at $300 Billion while the more realistic 5% interest will require a rate payment close to the cost of the recent $1.7 billion Omnibus Bill. In one example of the Pentagon’s lack of fiscal discipline, Braun related that a recent audit showed $3.5 Trillion worth of materiel and equipment assets while only 39% of those asserts could be located.
Sen. Johnson added that when he arrived in the Senate (2011), the country’s debt was $14.8 Trillion with $3.6 Trillion in expenses and $2.3 Trillion in revenues, leaving a deficit of $1.34 Trillion. Johnson endorsed restoring functionality to the budget process including individual appropriation bills and using the debt ceiling process as intended to be a mechanism to force a balanced budget. Johnson further suggested another step toward fiscal sanity with the Reducing Size of Federal Government through Attrition Act to reduce federal overhead without needing to fire any federal employees.
Sen. Scott added that balancing the budget requires growing the economy by increasing revenues, citing his experience as Governor of Florida in reducing taxes and cutting regulations with increased revenues which grew exponentially and that priorities must be set with the political discipline to ‘live within our means.”
It was pointed out that over half of European countries, especially Germany and Sweden are fiscally responsible as they balance their budgets and only spend what revenues come in. Sen. Paul suggested that if the US cut $100 Billion a year for the next four years, the US would have a balanced budget. None of this is rocket science yet requires a willingness to accept that there are no sacred cows.
All agreed that default would not happen and was nothing more than a Democrat scare tactic since revenues exceed the necessary interest and entitlement expenses. The Republicans supported adopting a Default Prevention Act in statute but the spend-thrift Democrats have blocked it. All agreed that while Social Security and Medicare were not on the table, that the greatest threat to entitlement programs is the current massive debt crisis.
A recent Rasmussen poll affirmed that 56% of likely American voters prefer a partial government shut down rather than support an increase in government spending or increasing the debt ceiling including 73% of Republicans and 56% of Independents, while 34% preferred increased spending to avoid a shutdown.
The Five presented a remarkably brilliant analysis on budget issues and the entire debt ceiling debate as focused and exceptionally knowledgeable. Their leadership was essential to bring attention to all elements of restoring fiscal sanity to the debt ceiling debate and obtain the necessary reforms to move toward a balance budget.
As Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky) and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Calif) meet with Biden this week, will they inform the President of the message from the House and Senate Republican caucuses regarding the debt ceiling as leverage to enact real and meaningful concessions to control spending?
Renee Parsons served on the ACLU’s Florida State Board of Directors and as president of the ACLU Treasure Coast Chapter. She has been an elected public official in Colorado, staff in the Office of the Colorado State Public Defender, an environmental lobbyist for Friends of the Earth and a staff member of the US House of Representatives in Washington DC.