Senator Bob Corker Holds Debt Ceiling Hostage To Arbitrary Spending Ceiling

Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) voted in favor of deficit increasing tax cuts last winter, and voted against the deficit reducing Affordable Care Act, but now he says we shouldn’t increase the nation’s debt ceiling unless the president agrees to an arbitrary cap on federal spending:

The Tennessee Republican told CNBC spending must be reduced to 20.6 percent of gross domestic product, which he characterized as a historic average.

“I have found that it’s irresponsible not to be responsible prior to a debt ceiling increase,” said Corker. “If we don’t have something that dramatically changes spending in this country and gets it in line, I will not vote for a debt ceiling increase.”

There are several problems with this. The first is that it implies the federal government should engage in pro-cyclical spending cuts every time there’s a recession, and then make it up with pro-cyclical spending hikes during boom times when it’s not needed. The second is that it falsely implies that revenues are somehow unrelated to debt issues. The third is that it completely ignores the question of need. The country has long spent money on pensions for elderly people. But “historically” there weren’t as many elderly people as there are today or as there will be fifteen years from now. Historical context is a relevant consideration, but you have to look at all its dimensions. Keeping up with the federal government’s traditional responsibilities will require a higher-than-traditional level of spending but that’s no reason to leap to the conclusion that we should abrogate those responsibilities to stick with an arbitrary target.