Toomey: We don't have to raise the debt ceiling

If one new member of Congress might be expected to take a firm stand against further government borrowing, it would be former Club for Growth chair Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA).  Toomey fought two Senate campaigns on the issue of fiscal responsibility, winning the second handily in 2010, and brings fiscal-conservative activism to a Congress sorely in need of it. Furthermore, the ground on this issue favors the deficit hawks, as most Americans simply aren’t buying the hysterics about global collapse coming from a White House led by a man who voted against a debt-ceiling increase himself in 2006.

However, in a column today at Real Clear Politics, Toomey explains that while we don’t necessarily have to raise the debt limit, a failure to do so will bring some serious consequences:

Moreover, as the Congressional Research Service has noted, the Treasury secretary himself has the discretion to decide which bills to pay first in the event that a cash flow shortage occurs. Thus, it is he who would have to consciously, and needlessly, choose to default on our debt if the debt ceiling is not promptly raised upon reaching it. It takes a lot of chutzpah to preemptively blame congressional Republicans for a default only he could cause.

To be sure, absent an increase in the debt limit, the resulting sudden, drastic spending cuts would be very disruptive and undesirable. That is why I have always argued that we should raise the debt limit once we have adopted the needed spending cuts and budgeting reforms. But disruptive and undesirable spending cuts are not the same thing as a catastrophic default on our debt.

Toomey argues that the kind of spending reforms needed would work better and less disruptively if managed through serious spending reform.  Furthermore, if Congress refuses to act on the debt ceiling, that puts the executive branch entirely in charge of making spending decisions, an outcome that should worry conservatives.  Better to pass a debt ceiling as part of a comprehensive reform package that keeps Congress in charge of those decisions — but that Congress should not budge until the White House agrees to those reforms:

But, it is clear from the administration’s record over the past two years that it has no interest in cutting spending and instituting structural spending reforms. In fact, the president has expanded the size and cost of government at every turn. This administration is largely populated with people who believe that massive deficit spending cures economic ills. Why would they want to curb spending now?

This is the same administration that gave us an $800 billion stimulus and said that wasn’t enough; the same administration that rammed a massive $1.445 trillion health care bill through Congress; the same administration that recently unveiled a 2012 budget that continues to add $9.47 trillion to our national debt; and the same administration that fought bitterly against very modest spending cuts in the continuing resolution spending bill for this year.

There is simply no reason to believe this administration will agree to any meaningful spending cuts or budget reforms except under pressure. But America desperately needs these reforms, as S&P recently reminded us. Congress must ignore the administration’s scare tactics and refuse to raise the debt limit until the administration agrees to put the federal government on a sustainable fiscal path.

Be sure to read all of what Toomey has to say, especially on the irresponsible rhetoric coming from the White House on the consequences of reaching the debt limit, which Toomey argues is a self-fulfilling prophecy for global panic.  He has this right, though.  Republicans in Congress have a lot of leverage in the debt-ceiling debate, and they should use it to address the issues that cause us to increase that statutory limit in such a manner that we don’t need to do it again.  Obama won’t cut government spending on his own, and he certainly won’t address entitlements in any manner that doesn’t increase government involvement and costs, at least not without getting something he desperately needs in exchange for it.

Who exactly are the extremists in this debate again?  And who are in the mainstream?