Republicans Hold Debt Ceiling Hostage For Cockamamie Constitutional Amendment

A slew of Republicans are trying to hold an increase in the nation’s debt ceiling — which will need to pass Congress in the coming months — hostage for various demands. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), for instance, said that he wants Social Security cuts in return for voting to raise the debt limit, while House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) wants “fiscal controls.”

In reality, the GOP will have to accede to an increase in the debt limit, as failure to enact one ultimately leads to the U.S. defaulting on its debt, and the many profound consequences that such a default would entail. Ryan himself said last week that “you can’t not raise the debt ceiling. Default is the unworkable solution.” Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) said Republicans need to act like “adults” when it comes to the debt ceiling.

But that hasn’t stopped some Republicans from making truly outlandish demands in return for their vote to increase the ceiling. The newest one is a call that the ceiling not be raised unless Congress begins the approval process for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution:

One way it could get done, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said on Fox News Sunday, is tying a balanced-budget rule to any agreement by Republicans to raise the debt ceiling. “I can’t imagine voting to raise the debt ceiling unless we’re going to change our ways in Washington,” Paul said. “I am proposing that we link to raising the debt ceiling — that we link a balanced budget rule, an ironclad rule that they can’t evade.” Not a bad idea, suggested [Rep. Jason] Chaffetz (R-UT), who said, “I think we need to be moving in that direction.”

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) said today on WND radio that, “I would like to see a balanced budget constitutional amendment” in return for raising the debt ceiling. Listen here:

It’s bad enough that Republicans are holding the debt ceiling — and therefore the credit worthiness of the U.S. — hostage, but to do so over a cockamamie constitutional amendment that would be completely disastrous in practice is even worse.


Not only would a balanced budget amendment take forever to pass, since it would have to be approved by 3/4ths of the states, it would be incredibly destructive by preventing the government from running a deficit when the situation calls for it (such as now, as the country tries to recover from a financial crisis). “The amendment’s requirement that the federal government annually spend no more than it collects is, quite simply, insane. Debt in itself is not harmful, neither for governments nor for households,” wrote Scott Galupo, a former staffer for Boehner.

Bruce Bartlett, a former economic official in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, laid out in excruciating detail why such an amendment makes no sense (including that it would make recessions worse and be completely unenforceable) before concluding that proposing one is just a “ploy by Republicans to avoid explaining how spending should be cut or taxes raised to actually achieve budget balance.”

And yet, some Republicans would threaten the credit of the entire nation by claiming that this unworkable idea is the only thing that can convince them to increase the debt limit.