You probably already know this, but ever since the current system of dealing with the national debt was adopted many decades ago, Congress has periodically raised the debt ceiling as a matter of routine housekeeping. Back in May of 2003, for example, Congress voted to raise the debt ceiling by enough to cover borrowing for the next year and a half, through the 2004 election. The Senate’s vote came a matter of hours after passing one of the largest tax cuts in American history, just two years after having already passed one. (Before these cuts, you recall, we were running a record surplus and the Congressional Budget Office had projected most of the national debt would be paid off by now.)
Now, for the first time in American history, one political party (the Republicans, if I need to spell it out) has decided to take the debt ceiling hostage, saying that if its ransom demands aren’t met, it will block additional borrowing, which given the current reduced sharply level of federal revenues means the government would have to stop paying more than a third of its bills. The Democrats have gone from asking for the same sort of clean bill that has been passed dozens of times in the past — seven times under George W Bush alone — to giving the Republicans almost everything they’ve asked for. In fact, they’ve actually offered more than the Republicans had originally been asking for, prompting the Republicans to demand still more.
Amazingly enough, however, a large segment the news media, determined at all cost to appear neutral, keep suggesting that both sides are equally intransigent. Journalistic objectivity in news articles is a good thing, but not to the point of misrepresenting reality. By all means let’s have a debate over spending and taxes, but do it in the context of the budget process, which we’re in the middle of anyway. The next federal fiscal year starts in just two months. In the meantime — Congressional Republicans, I’m talking to you — get the debt ceiling raised so we can pay our bills, and stop playing gangster-style politics with the credit rating of the United States of America.
For more on this, see Joe Klein and Nicholas D. Kristof.