Congress approved legislation last week that suspended the debt ceiling until March of 2015. Our choice was simple, vote to increase the debt limit as we have 117 times prior, or default on our debt. Failure to raise the ceiling would have caused havoc in the financial markets worldwide, dramatically increasing U.S. interest rates and severely damaging the economy. Our debt limit represents expenses Congress has already chosen to incur, it’s beyond irresponsible to refuse to pay for the goods and services we’ve already purchased.
Despite these facts, the procedural vote to raise the debt ceiling has been weaponized by Republicans, who have tried to use it as leverage to demand anti-environmental policy riders, the repeal of Obamacare and other hard-right conservative wish list items.
In recent years, Congress has come dangerously close to allowing what would be a self-inflicted economic catastrophe. The uncertainty created by the impasse over the debt ceiling in the summer of 2011 led to the downgrade of our credit rating for the first time in history. In 2013, we came a day away from crossing the debt limit threshold during the government shutdown, what would have been a double-whammy to the economy. In both these cases, Republican attempts to hold the debt ceiling hostage failed because President Obama and Democrats in Congress stood strong and refused to give in to unreasonable demands.
House Republicans have been campaigning on the premise that government doesn’t work and have set out to prove their rhetoric since taking the House of Representatives majority in 2010. Their obstructionism has forced the government to lurch from one crisis to the next over the past four years, before ultimately shutting down the government last fall. It’s been an ineffective strategy, hurting the economy in the process, and prevented the dialogue needed to address our long term fiscal challenges.
If we are to continue on the path towards long term debt and deficit reduction President Obama has set us on, it will require serious thought and difficult choices. Last week’s vote to extend the debt ceiling was victory in the fight to return to regular order, which began with last month’s omnibus budget agreement which brought two years of greater certainty to the budget process. I will continue to support this badly needed forward momentum that represents the kind of rational governance the American people clearly desire.