Pawlenty: No need to raise the debt limit

posted at 2:50 pm on January 17, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

Tim Pawlenty comes up with an interesting “third way” on the issue of the debt ceiling that, assuming it gets signed into law, would keep the Treasury from borrowing more money while keeping the nation from a ruinous default. Of course, the operative if looms large here, which is to say that Barack Obama would have to enable Republicans to force the federal government into cuts in spending in every other area, while denying Obama any latitude in expanding programs like ObamaCare or further stimulus spending.  It would be the ultimate pay-go scenario, but don’t expect Democrats to jump with joy over the idea:

The Wall Street Journal discussed this at more length with Pawlenty:

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal Sunday and in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Mr. Pawlenty challenged even leaders in his own party, who have said Congress must increase the federal debt ceiling rather than risk a default that could send interest rates skyrocketing and the economy back into recession.

Mr. Pawlenty said Congress should pass legislation that would put interest and debt payments ahead of other federal spending and allow the federal government to pay its creditors as tax revenue flows in. With the surge of tax payments that come in between April and June, that would at least buy time to try to cut spending dramatically, he said.

“This debate about how we’re going to restructure spending is inevitable. My view is, let’s have it now,” Mr. Pawlenty said in the Journal interview. “Let’s call their bluff.”

White House economists have said it would court economic disaster to use the debt ceiling, which is likely to be reached this spring, as a negotiating tool. Long-term interest rates remain at historically low levels, indicating no urgent need for dramatic austerity measures, they say, adding that such cuts in the short run would jeopardize the economic recovery.

Pawlenty also called on Obama to explain why he voted against an increase in the debt ceiling in 2006 and why such a vote shouldn’t be cast in 2010.  At the time, Obama said that his vote was a protest against irresponsible spending, which certainly hasn’t decreased in the five years since.  In fact, the FY2007 budget, which Congress debated at that time, spent $2.77 trillion dollars and had a deficit of $244 billion.  The FY2010 budget, the last one passed by Congress and signed by Obama, spent $3.8 trillion with a deficit of $1.3 trillion, which are increases of 37% and 432%, respectively.

Even if Obama refuses to go along with that strategy, it’s still worth pursuing.  The refusal to sequence spending to cover obligations first will show a lack of commitment to fiscal responsibility in the White House, and the hypocrisy of the pay-go posturing of Democrats last year (as if their waivers weren’t enough).  It reframes the argument from disaster avoidance to irresponsible budgeting, which is exactly where the debate needs to go.

Note: I will be broadcasting live from Lifeway Christian Bookstore in Woodbury tomorrow starting at 11:30 CT on AM 1280 The Patriot, where Pawlenty will be signing copies of his new book Courage to Stand and discussing this and other issues with us.


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