— An early — and perhaps even important — battle in the new Congress may be over the nation’s debt ceiling.
Every now and then, Congress must authorize additional borrowing for the government. This is because the national debt keeps growing, and it periodically threatens to exceed what lawmakers have permitted.
Typically, votes to raise the debt ceiling come with a lot of drama provided by fiscal conservatives in Congress who argue against the move. They see it as a way to force the government to cut back on spending.
But while there may be a lot of hand wringing and complaining, the ceiling goes up and the issue fades away.
This year, things could be a bit different. Right now, the nation’s debt stands at $13.9 trillion, and the limit is $14.3 trillion. Based on projections, it will have to be raised again in March.
True to form, some conservative lawmakers are vowing to vote against boosting the debt ceiling. And with Republicans in control of Congress — as well as growing public sentiment against the growing debt — they may have more clout this time than in the past.
The Obama administration is warning against efforts to block an increase in the debt ceiling. Anything that smacks of the United States not being able to pay its bills — including interest on outstanding debt — has a tendency to roil the markets. That would raise interest rates and make future borrowing for the government, and everyone else, more expensive.
. . . As for lawmakers who think they can trim the budget to avoid raising the debt ceiling, this could be an educational opportunity for them. They should be asked to specify the cuts they would make that could be implemented by March.
They will discover that putting a dent in the federal budget is far easier said than done. Much of the costs are tied to entitlements, defense spending and interest on debt that are difficult to reduce.
. . . Debt reduction is a desirable goal for Congress. But it needs to be done right.