At a Capitol Hill hearing today, South Carolina Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy asked Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner a thought-provoking hypothetical question. The congressman wanted to know:

“If this were the last debt ceiling request you could ask for … the final one and you had to make it large enough for all current and future obligations, what would the request need to be?”

Not surprisingly, Geithner didn’t have a ready answer, but Gowdy didn’t let it go. At last, Obama’s only remaining original economic team member admitted, “It would be a lot. It would make you uncomfortable.”

As we learned last summer, the question of whether debt ceiling increases should be treated as routine or harnessed to achieve important budgetary priorities is one that can divide even conservatives. Just as I was then, I’m still firmly in the camp that’s unafraid to risk default, however painful that would be (and it would be painful!). Conservatives in Congress should continue to fight for meaningful entitlement reform and spending cuts every time the Treasury asks for a debt ceiling increase. In a personal financial crisis, it would be unthinkable to ask for an expanded line of credit without doing something to reassure creditors that you’re taking steps to ensure you’ll eventually be able to repay your debts. It should be unthinkable in a national financial crisis, too.

Notice that, since this summer, the debt ceiling has increased and the debt itself has also increased — but Congress has not enacted any kind of meaningful deficit reduction plan. What’s to prevent this from continuing until we are like Greece? One way or another, the nation will eventually be forced to learn to do without government programs it cannot afford.

Update: This post originally suggested that Tim Geithner was the last remaining member of Obama’s Cabinet, when, in fact, he is the last remaining member of Obama’s economic team.