Boxer moves to blunt future debt-limit battles

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer has reintroduced a bill that would blunt the ability to use the nation’s debt limit as a political bargaining chip, as Republicans have in recent years.

Congressional Republicans say they won’t approve raising the debt limit – the legal limit on the government’s borrowing, now at $16.4 trillion – unless Democrats and President Obama agree to deficit-reduction measures; the Democrats say raising the debt limit is a matter of paying bills on money we’ve already spent, and the threat of defaulting will wreck the world’s confidence.

The House is expected to vote later today on House Republicans’ plan to suspend enforcement of the debt limit through mid-May, giving everyone some time to cool off, reposition themselves and negotiate after the recently avoided “fiscal cliff.”

Barbara BoxerBoxer, D-Calif., said her S.57, the USA AAA Credit Restoration Act, would establish a predictable and fair process for considering an increase in the debt limit in order to avoid a default that would have catastrophic impacts on the global financial system and the U.S. economy.

“The last time Republicans threatened to default on our nation’s debt, consumer confidence plummeted, our country lost its AAA credit rating and it cost taxpayers more than $18 billion,” Boxer said in a news release. “This bill will bring sanity to future debt limit debates by laying out a clear, orderly process for raising the debt ceiling while allowing all voices to be heard.”

The bill she reintroduced Tuesday would set clear timetables for the Administration to request a debt limit increase and for Congress to consider it. On the day the President submits his budget to Congress each year, the Treasury Secretary would have to submit to Congress and print in the Federal Register the amount by which the debt limit must be increased for the following year. The Administration’s request would become law automatically unless Congress voted to disapprove of the debt limit increase under an expedited procedure.

Boxer said the measure is modeled on provisions in the Budget Control Act proposed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., during 2011’s debt limit debate.

The debt limit has been raised about 100 times since 1940, more often under Republican presidents than under Democrats. President Ronald Reagan holds the record, at 18 debt-limit increases; no other president has exceeded 10, and Obama is now seeking his seventh.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    When Crazy Uncle Joe was elected veep, Boxer became the biggest idiot in the Senate.

  • JohnW

    Boxer may not always be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I think she has the right idea on this.

  • RR senile columnist

    Elwood, Joe is not dumb, he is crazy. BB is the reverse.

  • Alcoahead

    @1 —

    What was it Obama said about name calling and its place in the national dialogue?

    Oh, yeah – this:

    “We cannot…treat name-calling as reasoned debate.”

  • Common Tater

    There’s that pesky 1st Amendment again getting in the way of liberals taking all our money…

  • Publius

    “the Democrats say raising the debt limit is a matter of paying bills on money we’ve already spent”

    This is a lie….. The debts already incurred can be paid with out borrowing money. The day to day operations of the government require borrowing.

    “The last time Republicans threatened to default on our nation’s debt, consumer confidence plummeted, our country lost its AAA credit rating and it cost taxpayers more than $18 billion”

    This is another lie…..The reason our credit was down graded was due to runaway federal spending and a failrure to address the problem.

    “On the day the President submits his budget to Congress each year,”

    She didn’t say budget did she? The president and the Senate have failed to produce and pass a budget for the past 3 years! Not only is it unconstitutional it is bad government. The President’s last budget proposal wasn’t even brought to the floor for a vote in the Democratic Senate. Speaking of budgets; how has congress agreed to pay for government for the past four years if there has not been a budget? If the debt ceiling increase is for bills we have already incurred who authorized them? How can you demand more borrowing if you cannot even produce a budget?

    Not one word about spending? The argument that the opposition party should just roll over and let the Democrats spend as much as they want for the good of the country is without merit. The size of this debt begs for a debate over the governments ability to borrow more. This is not “political bargaining chip”. This is our Senator? Too bad…..

    Can’t wait for DiFi’s Gun Bill.

  • JohnW

    Re #6 Publius Says

    Yes, without raising the debt ceiling, the government would still be able to pay interest on the $11.6 Trillion “Debt Held by the Public.” But it would have cash flow difficulty paying off maturing debt and replacing it with new bonds just to maintain the existing level of debt. Also, the government has obligations beyond just the debt. Paying salaries and pensions, paying bills, paying Social Security, Medicare etc. Congress and/or the Treasury would have to decide which things not to pay. People would not be pleased, to put it mildly.

    It’s true that the big picture that resulted in the S&P downgrade was gridlock in dealing with the fiscal issues. However the debt ceiling debacle was the “headline” symbol of that gridlock and was the event that triggered S&P to act.

    I agree that it is bad government not to produce a budget in the manner we all were taught in high school civics. But, no, it is not unconstitutional. There is nothing in the Constitution that requires a budget. The Constitution only requires that “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in consequence of appropriations made by law.” When there is no budget passed by Congress, they authorize the spending by means of appropriations bills and continuing resolutions. This is not unique to the Obama years. So, the argument that the debt ceiling merely enables the government to pay obligations already incurred is completely accurate.

    Simpson-Bowles, Standard & Poors and most economists have said we need $4 Trillion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years. You could make a case for more, but that’s the number that has been tossed around. The 2011 budget control act reduced 10-year non-defense discretionary spending by about $1.2 billion. Letting the Bush tax cuts expire on upper income people reduces the deficits by another $600 billion. So, we need another $2.8 Trillion in deficit reduction by some combination of spending and revenue to hit the $4 Trillion. But, if we hit the $4 Trillion, we will still need to keep raising the debt ceiling until we have a balanced budget. Not even Republicans have proposed anything that would balance the budget anytime in the next several years. The Ryan proposal would not have balanced the budget until about 2040. Yes, that’s pretty scary, considering that we managed to generate surplusses during Clinton’s second term.

    Letting the Bush tax cuts expire on just the top 2% and the permanent “patch” for the Alternative Minimum Tax, right or wrong, made our fiscal challenge over the next 10 years $3.7 Trillion worse (according to CBO).

  • JohnW

    Bad numbers above on amount still needed to get $4 Trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years.

    $1.2 Trillion (not billion) discretionary spending cuts enacted in 2011.
    $600 Billion new revenue due to expired tax cuts.
    $2.2 Trillion in revenue and/or spanding cuts to hit $4 Trillion (not $2.8 T)

    $700 Billion more in revenue would make the total revenue contribution $1.3 T
    $1.5 Trillion more in spending cuts would bring the total spending contribution to $2.7 T.

    That would be $2 in spending reduction of every $1 of revenue.

    We can do this. Compromise.