Congressman: Lower the Debt Ceiling

Georgia Congressman Paul Broun has a radical suggestion: While we're playing chicken with the nation's debt, let's cut $1.3 trillion from the debt ceiling!

Georgia Congressman Paul Broun has a radical suggestion: While we’re playing chicken with the nation’s debt, let’s cut $1.3 trillion from the debt ceiling!

The piece, run at NRO’s The Corner, is titled “Thinking Outside the Box: Let’s Lower the Debt Ceiling.”

Today, I introduced a unique bill that goes in a completely different direction than everything else we’ve been hearing out of Washington. It would force politicians to start practicing what they’ve been preaching by lowering the debt ceiling from $14.3 trillion back down to $13 trillion. Admittedly, this is not your run-of-the-mill kind of law, but it would make it imperative for Congress to think outside of the box and come up with ways to pay off a portion of our debt while drastically cutting back spending. Since 1996, the national debt has increased by an inexcusable $8.79 trillion. I firmly believe that this calls for emergency measures to reduce the debt.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are equally responsible for the government’s past fiscal irresponsibility. Sadly, whenever Congress has been given a chance to make a real impact on the budget, our spending habits, and our nation’s livelihood, Democrats and Republicans alike have caved.

Moreover, in this time of crisis, liberals are pushing for a $2 trillion increase in our debt ceiling. And their only answer for our financial fiasco is to cut nothing and raise taxes on everything — which would simply give Washington more money to burn through. Even more disturbingly, under the president’s budget proposal, the debt would double to $26.3 trillion by 2021, and he has no intention or plan to pay it down.

Should my legislation be signed into law, Washington would have to get serious about making the cuts they’ve been talking about, and our national debt would be one step closer to being manageable. My legislation would not just slow down, or stop the reckless spending train; it would completely turn it around. To be realistic, we can’t lower the debt limit today, but if we set a deadline, the beginning of FY 2012, it would force politicians to make those decisions in the months to come.

Broun is a medical doctor, so it’s unlikely that he’s stupid. So, Kevin Drum‘s suggestions of “insane” or “gigantic practical joke” are reasonable guesses.

My back-of-the-envelope guess — and I’m not willing to do anything more than that — is that this would force federal spending down to about $1.3 trillion in FY2012. Slice off interest on the debt and you’d have about a trillion bucks left over. That’s enough to fund, say, the Pentagon plus half of Social Security and nothing more. That’s outside the box all right.

Look, I’d like to cut federal spending back severely. But doing so precipitously is practically and politically impossible. And simply asinine in the midst of a sluggish economy with double digit real unemployment.

Further, even if we removed all the Democrats from the equation–ignoring that one controls the presidency and that they have a majority in the Senate–there wouldn’t be anything like a majority among the Republican Caucus for cuts that draconian. Maybe there would be if the Tea Party Caucus were allowed to act unilaterally; but that just takes us back to insane.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. I really begin to wonder as to the degree to which some of these people even understand what the budget is and what it does, let alone what the deficit and debt are in both contemporary and historic perspectives. The mind boggles at suggestions like this.

  2. PJ says:

    Broun is a medical doctor, so it’s unlikely that he’s stupid.

    I’d argue that while he might be good at his chosen profession, he can actually be a total idiot when it comes to matters outside of his profession.

  3. Duracomm says:

    Steven L. Taylor said,

    I really begin to wonder as to the degree to which some of these people even understand what the budget is and what it does

    The democrats in the senate are a perfect example of your point.

    Dems Refuse To Deal With Their Fiscal Mess

    It’s been over two years since the Democrat-led Senate last passed a budget, a fact that puts it squarely in violation of the law.

    the refusal of Democrats in Congress to pass a budget or take meaningful steps to head off our looming fiscal disaster is nothing short of a national disgrace.

  4. Jay Tea says:

    I had an idea a while ago that I thought addressed the stated concerns of the Democrats: a multi-stage bill on the debt ceiling. Jack it up to, say, 15 billion immediately. But as of September 1, 2012, it goes down a billion a year every year until it’s gone.

    That buys us a little over a year to start fixing things. How’s that sound?

    J.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Maybe there would be if the Tea Party Caucus were allowed to act unilaterally; but that just takes us back to insane.

    Happy to hear you admit James, that the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I’m just admitting that the lunatics are lunatics. The Tea Party Caucus is 60 strong–and probably only a fraction of those would actually go along with this crazy bill.

  7. hey norm says:

    Seriously…when you consider the things these folks believe, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, it just shows that they are the not the sharpest knives in the drawer. The least among us do not create the cultural morass, but they are more than willing to root around in it.
    The founding fathers…elite among their contemporaries…left us a system that would inevitably lead, and has lead, to a “popular government” no better than the lowest common denominator of the population. A Republic “by the people” can be a scary proposition when you actually consider the people. I believe that Washington and Franklin and Adams and Jefferson et al hoped for the extraordinary to rise from the ordinary. They may not have considered the less than ordinary. They certainly did not consider Paul Broun.

  8. mantis says:

    Why not lower it to zero? Then we’ll magically have no debt! Genius!

  9. hey norm says:

    @ Mantis…
    Genius. Absolute genius.
    Question: Do you think if we had no debt the so-called republicans would still call for tax cuts for the rich?

  10. WR says:

    @Jay Tea: Actually, it sounds pretty stupid. Why don’t we instead decide what we need as a nation, budget accordingly, and then adjust the tax code to fit? How is choosing an arbitrary number as a target going to do any good at all?

  11. Of course, when every single suggestion that getting spiralling debt under control is treated as insane perhaps the inmates are running the asylum.

  12. bandit says:

    Spot on. It’s incredible how ‘smart’ someone has to be to spend us into oblivion.

  13. hey norm says:

    bandit…
    I know exactly what you mean about “smart”…I’m always shocked that W. has a BA from Yale and and an MBA from Harvard and still spent us into oblivion.

  14. Tlaloc says:

    Of course, when every single suggestion that getting spiralling debt under control is treated as insane perhaps the inmates are running the asylum.

    Actually you could just roll back the bush tax cuts, that takes the debt WAY down. As in it gets rid of about third of it. Any debt that is so easily managed, by simply not reauthorizing an irresponsible tax cut, is not a big deal.

  15. WR says:

    @charles austin: Perhaps that’s because the people who insist that debt is a crushing burden that means our imminent doom also refuse to consider even tiny hikes in taxes to help pay it off. If you say on the one hand that we are about to die as a nation because of our debt, and on the other that it’s unthinkable to reduce subsidies to oil companies or to stop granting deductions on yachts as second homes, then you are either insane, or you are lying about your concern about the debt.

  16. Doubter says:

    @WR:
    That’s the point isn’t it: Spending cuts with additional Revenue is the only sane way of getting there. And it’s not even being considered.

  17. mantis says:

    @Doubter:

    That’s the point isn’t it: Spending cuts with additional Revenue is the only sane way of getting there. And it’s not even being considered.

    Oh, it’s being considered. Just not by Republicans. That’s because they want to hurt the economy. That’s the point.

  18. Jay Tea says:

    I would challenge anyone who voted down my and DuraComm’s comments to explain what was so damned objectionable about them.

    Apart, of course, from not being liberal hackery like WR’s and mantis’ comments.

    J.

  19. mantis says:

    I would challenge anyone who voted down my and DuraComm’s comments to explain what was so damned objectionable about them.

    I didn’t vote your comment down, but I have a guess as to why people did. It was idiotic, and not just because you referred to the debt and ceiling in billion-dollar terms.

    By all means, continue whining about your comment ratings. That’s really helping your “argument.” If you are so concerned about those ratings, you may want to explain how you think the debt could be entirely paid down in 15 years. Do you understand what that would entail? What do you propose we stop funding to meet those goals?

    The federal government spends about $3.5 trillion each year. Somewhere around 80% of that, or $2.8 trillion, goes to defense, medicare, medicaid, social security, unemployment insurance, debt interest, and pensions. Even if you stopped funding everything else, you wouldn’t come near your goals. We are currently deficit spending more than $1 trillion per year. To do what you propose, we would have to eliminate that deficit spending immediately, plus eliminate another trillion dollars of spending each year to pay down the debt. That’s about half of all federal spending eliminated, immediately. What gets cut?

    So maybe the problem with your comment is that it is just spouting random numbers you thought of, devoid of any details of how you would achieve them.

    Anyway, you were whining about hackery? How does that song go again?

  20. WR says:

    Jay Tea — You suggested we fix our budged by setting out to achieve a completely arbitrary number for no reason other than it’s one you pulled out of the air. I suggested that a better course would be to determine how much spending the country actually needs, and then adjust our income and spending to those needs.

    Apparently the concept of actually considering what the people of the United States require is now “liberal hackery.”

  21. WR, with all due respect look at any of the graphs floating around the ether of federal spending and revenue for the last forty years. We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

    The only way to get deficit spending under control is to, wait for it, cut spending. You can implement 100% taxation for everyone making a million dollars a year and it still won’t eliminate the deficit. Would I agree to tax increases to bring spending under control? Sure, as soon as you can show me how it can be done in a binding manner that doesn’t merely allow for even more defecit spending, but I’d rather have a complete reform of our system of taxation. Are you old enough to remember George H.W. Bush sacrificing his credibility (and making himself the butt of endless “Read my lips” comedic routines) to trade tax increases for cuts in spending that never materialized? Sorry, we’ve been down this path and I cannot trust Obama, Reid, Pelosi, et al, to stick to any promises to cut spending any more than I can trust them or the Republicans that this will be the last time, absolutely the last, cross my heart and hope to die last time we will spend too much, or grant an amnesty to illegal aliens, etc.

    Oh, and if Timothy Geithner can’t figure out the the highest priority of the Treasury Department is to pay the monthly $20B to service the debt from the $200B the federal government takes in every month then he is clearly — and criminally — unfit for the job of Secretary of the Treasury. He’s far from stupid, so if he chooses to keep repeating these lies then I must assume worse of him than that he is merely stupid.

  22. Pug says:

    Moreover, in this time of crisis, liberals are pushing for a $2 trillion increase in our debt ceiling. And their only answer for our financial fiasco is to cut nothing and raise taxes on everything…

    So, I understand that this Brown guy is new, but he must just be playing dumb or something. The liberal’s answer is raise taxes on everything and cut nothing? He wrote that seriously?

    I’d like to have him explain one simple thing to me: Why should hedge fund managers pay taxes on their incomes at capital gains rates? How did they ever get that sweet little loophole?

    They put no capital at risk and they labor to increase the value of other people’s money. They are paid a bonus based on what their labor produces, not their capital investment. If you put up no capital, how can you make capital gains?

    Eliminating this is what Cantor and Boehner call “raising taxes on the American people” and Brown calls “taxing everything”. This is insanity. Unfortunately, with fools like these in positions of power our poor county probably deserves what it is about to get.

  23. WR says:

    @charles austin: Our taxes are at their lowest levels in decades. The rich are becoming vastly richer while their taxes are a fraction of what they used to be. Corporations are sitting on billions in cash and giving bonuses to executives in the tens of millions while laying off workers.

    And the right-wing response is nothing but a bumper sticker: “We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem.”

    Sorry if hearing the same cliche repeated time and again does nothing to convince me.

  24. Pug says:

    Oh, and if Timothy Geithner can’t figure out the the highest priority of the Treasury Department is to pay the monthly $20B to service the debt from the $200B the federal government takes in every month then he is clearly — and criminally — unfit for the job of Secretary of the Treasury

    Really, Charles? And where in the Constitution does it give power to the Secretary of the Treasury to pick and choose which obligations of the US government to pay? Congress should be given that little chore.

  25. hey norm says:

    @ Austin…
    “…Are you old enough to remember George H.W. Bush sacrificing his credibility (and making himself the butt of endless “Read my lips” comedic routines) to trade tax increases for cuts in spending that never materialized?”
    I’m old enough…I guess I’m just not senile like you. The fact is that the only time in the last 4 or 5 decades that government spending has been significantly reduced was as a result of Bush 41’s ’90 tax deal and Clintons ’93 tax deal – before the repulicans contract on america.
    I swear – you just make shit up. tax rates are at an all-time low…you don’t think that may be part of the debt problem? combined with the worst economic downturn since the depression? now i’m not saying the republicans didn’t have a spending problem under bush 43. i’m saying it’s not an either/or problem. but you go ahead and keep repeating the talking points you get hear on fox news.
    sigh.

  26. steve says:

    @charles austin: Do you really run a business? Do you only worry about spending? I sure cant do that for my corporation.

    Steve

  27. Liberty60 says:

    @ Charles- “The only way to get deficit spending under control is to, wait for it, cut spending. ”

    Well, not quite the ONLY way- but OK, lets go with your basic premise, that we need to cut spending so as to balance the budget.

    I agree with you, sincerely.

    But what causes many of us to ridicule the Republicans (both in Congress and on blogs comments) is the insincerity of their claims.

    Specifically- no one on the Right is making a serious budgtet, that is a list of departments and what gets cut.

    For instance, consider the following-
    we spent in FY 2010 roughly-
    1 Trillion for Defense/ Homeland Security;
    1 Trillion for Social Security;
    0.6 Trillion for Medicare;
    0.4 Trillion for debt service
    0.5 Trillion for every other damn thing the Govt does.

    3.5 Trillion total spending offset by:

    1 and change Trillion in Social Security payroll tax;
    1 and change Trillion in other taxes.

    2.1 Trillion in total revenue.

    So there we have it- which of these numbers would Republicans- or you personally-want to change?

    All we ever hear is hysterical cries to “CUTCUTCUTCUT”, yet when pressed, conservatives always seem to shy away and find something else to talk about.

    So here is your chance-
    for FY 2012:

    ____Trillion for Defense/ Homeland Security;
    ____Trillion for Social Security;
    ____Trillion for Medicare;
    ____Trillion for debt service
    ____Trillion for every other damn thing the Govt does.
    ____Trillion total spending offset by:

    ____Trillion in Social Security payroll tax;
    ____Trillion in other taxes.
    ____Trillion in total revenue.

    Show us your genuine conservative balanced budget, and we can talk. Otherwise, this is all just posturing and games.

  28. wr, that whole “taxes are at their lowest level ever” is only true as a relative measure against GDP. You really need to qualify that before using it as though it is universally true or dispositive, because it’s not.

    hey norm, bite me if all you have are peurile insults. I haven’t watched Fox News in years, but I can understand why you seem to believe people can’t think for themselves.

    steve, yes, yes I do. Please point out where I said expenses are all that matter or continue to just make shit up if that’s the only way you can win the argument. What I said was that spending is out of control and continues to grow faster than revenue coming in. What part of those facts are you struggling with? No amount of taxation will fix the deficit if spending keeps growing as it has the last ten years. All vitriol and snark aside, what exactly are you arguing with?

    Running a country isn’t exactly like running a business or a home, but some of the budgetary and economic basics are identical. When some of you on the Left want to seriously address the very real budget and balance sheet problems in the country instead of just calling me names, putting words in my mouth, building strawmen you can knock down, or appealing to emotional arguments in lieu of rational decision making, let me know. Otherwise, I don’t have time for this crap.

    Have a nice frickin’ day.

  29. Liberty60, fair enough, over a ten year period I would phase out most of the income redistribution based programs and start over. That leaves enough to start paying down the debt, run the courts, etc. When we have a clear path to solvency, then we can start to entertain notions about how much more we want to spend as a society on various social programs and deal with them honestly and above board, unlike the ponzi schemes, accounting tricks, and outright lies used to sell and administered for the last 70 years.

    Someone cleverer than I can devise constitutional amendments to punish anyone trying to stick in all the loopholes and social engineering nonsense that waste so much time and energy by complicating the tax code needlessly for the benefit of a privileged few. Perhaps bills of attainder would be a decent solution if you think tarring and feathering is cruel and unusual. Hey, if we start tarring and feathering everyone that deserves it, perhaps it will no longer be unusual even if it is terribly cruel. Like I said, we’d need a constitutional amendment though. While were at it, get rid of crony capitalism, rent control (state and local issue, I know), HUD, farm subsidies, energy subsidies, the Department of Education, the Department of Homeland Security by reallocating the 25% or so of worthwhile activities to other agencies and removing the other 75%. Well, that’s a start anyway.

    Oh, and everyone involved with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac goes to jail. Perhaps we can apply Dodd-Fank to them and go after all the money that James Johnson, Franklin Raines, Rahm Emanuel, Jamie Gorelick, et al got for almost destroying us financially as they were materially responsible for the failures. Maybe we should add another constitutional amendment that Congress no longer gets to exempt themselves from any laws they pass.

  30. Liberty60 says:

    @Charles-
    “over a ten year period I would phase out most of the income redistribution based programs and start over. ”

    OK, so what does that mean? Social Security and Medicare? What other “income redistribution” schemes are you taling about?

    is this a fair depiction of your proposed budget in 2021? (all numbers held in constant 2010 dollars)

    1 Trillion for Defense/ Homeland Security;
    0.0 Trillion for Social Security;
    0.0 Trillion for Medicare;
    0.4 Trillion for debt service
    0.5 Trillion for every other damn thing the Govt does.
    1.9 Trillion total spending offset by:

    0.0 Trillion in Social Security payroll tax;
    1 Trillion in other taxes.
    1.0 Trillion in total revenue.

    0.9 Trillion in deficit

    Did I get it wrong? If so, what would you change?

  31. Yes, it means Social Security and Medicare. Those are the primary two wealth redistribution schemes. Time to recalculate.

  32. An Interested Party says:

    Liberty60, fair enough, over a ten year period I would phase out most of the income redistribution based programs and start over.

    Yes, it means Social Security and Medicare. Those are the primary two wealth redistribution schemes. Time to recalculate.

    With all due respect, would you provide magical ponies too? In Conservative Fantasyland, talk of phasing out Social Security and Medicare must sound really good, but back here, in the real world, such delusional schemes aren’t going to happen…

  33. Liberty60 says:

    Well I give you props for being bold enough to admit you want to eliminate SS and Medicare- but notice how difficult it was to get to this point, where you stated it, but only grudgingly.

    Think of how difficult it is for people like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell who understand perfectly well that saying such a thing would be political suicide.

    Even rabid Tea Partiers dont want to eliminate those programs. Yet without increased taxes, it is mathematecally impossible to balance the budget without doing some sort of radical surgery to the American compact with our elderly.

    Which is why no one is taking the Republicans seriously. Because they aren’t.

  34. @charles austin: However, the fact of the matter is that we are not going to eliminate either Social Security or Medicare. If you are premising all of your arguments about our spending problem on the notion that we are going to do away with those programs, it is no wonder that you and others often talk past one another.

    Any real discussion about the US’ fiscal future has to assume that those programs will exist in some form.

  35. James says:

    @charles austin:

    We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

    No we don’t. We have a huge, massive tax receipt (i.e. revenue) shortfall.

    The biggest contributors? The Bush Tax-Cuts and the Massive Economic Crisis we just had.

  36. Duracomm says:

    Steven Taylor said,

    However, the fact of the matter is that we are not going to eliminate either Social Security or Medicare.

    The fact of the matter is that which can’t be sustained won’t. The massive spending problem the feds have can’t be sustained and it won’t be.

    A second fact is the biggest driver of the growing fiscal crisis is entitlement spending.

    The third fact is entitlements are going to be cut.

    The only choice is whether it will be in a controlled manner before the debt bomb explodes or in a much more drastic and radical manner after the debt bomb explodes.

    Given the complete state of denial many people have about the primary role entitlements play in the fiscal crisis it is looking to be more likely that the the debt bomb is going to explode. This will be followed by a fiscal crisis and radical cuts in entitlements.

    Fourth fact: The longer entitlement changes are delayed the worse the end results will be.


    Entitlements and interest alone will exceed total revenue by 2025.

  37. @Duracomm: If you read the sentence you quoted, it used the verb “eliminate.”

    I would agree that reforms are necessary.

    That, however, is not what I was addressing.

    Are you contending that we are going to eliminate either or both of these programs?

  38. WR says:

    @Duracomm: Or we can increase revenue. Amazing how no one on the right will acknowledge that simple fact. Instead they wave the bumper sticker about “a spending problem.” Raise taxes and pay for what the American people want. There, problem solved. Bye now.

  39. Duracomm says:

    Steven L. Taylor said,

    Are you contending that we are going to eliminate either or both of these programs?

    They are going to be changed.

    It would be easier to discuss what the changes would be and how to implement them if the democrats would produce a budget that could be discussed.

    Unfortunately the democrats can’t be bothered to carry out the minimal tasks their elected office requires of them and produce a budget.

    They prefer to snipe at the ryan plan instead of producing an alternative.