In a floor speech Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) falsely claimed that the debt ceiling is critical to saving future generations from inheriting a crippling national debt. Rubio, who is widely expected to seek his party’s presidential nomination in 2016, insisted that the Senate forbid its budget conferees from including an increase to the debt ceiling in the conference report. “I’m not asking for some ridiculous thing,” he said. “This is the debt limit! Something that’s been called the single greatest national security problem facing the United States of America by a national security official.”
Later, speaking of his young children, Rubio said, “I’m gonna have to explain to them, what did you do, or what did you not do, when you were in the Senate? How could you have allowed this debt to move forward?” Watch the speech:
Rubio’s remarks conflated the debt limit and the debt itself. Preventing a debt ceiling increase does not reduce America’s debts. It constrains the country’s ability to borrow money to pay its obligations, including the costs of servicing the existing debt. Spending laws already on the books create debt, and failure to raise the debt ceiling doesn’t nullify those laws. Instead, it threatens to cause the government to default on those obligations, which would be economically catastrophic (and would actually increase the country’s overall debt burden).
Rubio also attributed his error to a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired Navy Admiral Mike Mullen. Adm. Mullen is the national security official who called the national debt “our biggest national security threat” in 2010 and subsequent remarks prior to his retirement in 2011.
Rubio also claimed that “debt limit increases have become a matter of routine,” but the opposite is true. For 50 years, Congress routinely increased it as needed. But in 2011, Republicans decided the debt ceiling was “a hostage worth ransoming,” in the words of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Republican brinkmanship caused the first-ever downgrade of the U.S. credit rating by Standard & Poor’s and cost the country a million jobs and about $19 billion. Republicans continue to use the debt ceiling as a point of negotiating leverage.
Rubio’s speech amounts a demand that Democrats enshrine the Republican tactic of using the debt ceiling as a legislative hostage in the budget reconciliation process. “If they fail to do that, we cannot move forward,” Rubio said.