Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) claimed Tuesday that a Republican-led refusal to raise the debt ceiling could be a "wonderful experiment" in forcing the government not to spend money on "stupid things."
During an interview with conservative radio host Sandy Rios, Coburn downplayed warnings from economists, President Barack Obama and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who have suggested that Congress' failure to raise the federal government’s statutory borrowing limit would prove economically disastrous for the nation. Coburn argued that because some entitlement payments would still go out amid a government shutdown or debt default, Republicans shouldn't fear a move to reject raising the debt ceiling.
"We’re going to collect $200 billion a month if in fact the government were to not extend the debt limit,” Coburn told Rios. “Social Security would be paid, Medicare would be paid, the essentials would be paid. It’s the non-essentials that wouldn’t be paid, it’s the $250 to $300 billion a year in stupid things we do that we wouldn’t pay. It’s the programs that aren’t an absolute necessity that wouldn’t get funded, the things that would be a necessity would get funded.”
Coburn continued, seemingly urging lawmakers consider a vote against a debt ceiling increase.
“It might be a wonderful experiment, regardless who wins the next election or not, just to see if we could live on the money that’s coming into the Treasury and not have to borrow against the future of our children,” the Oklahoma Republican said.
On Monday, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner wrote a letter to Congress announcing that the government was set to exhaust its statutory borrowing authority between mid-February and early March.
As Ezra Klein of the Washington Post pointed out earlier this month, if Congress refuses to extend that authority, the programs the government would remain able to fund would rapidly diminish:
The choices it will face quickly become stark. It can cover interest on the debt, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, defense spending, education, food stamps and other low-income transfers, and a handful of other programs, but doing all that will mean defaulting on everything -- really, everything -- else. The FBI will shut down. The people responsible for tracking down loose nukes will lose their jobs. The prisons won’t operate. The biomedical researchers won’t be funded. The court system will close its doors. The tax refunds won’t go out. The Federal Aviation Administration will go offline. The parks will close. Food safety inspections will cease.
On Monday, Obama challenged Republicans not to engage in dangerous brinksmanship over obligations to which Congress has already agreed to pay. He also reminded of the consequences from the last battle over raising the debt ceiling.
"They will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the economy," the president said during a press conference. "The full faith and credit of the United States economy is not a bargaining chip. And they better choose quickly because time is running short. The last time Republicans in Congress even flirted with this idea, our AAA credit rating was down for the first time in our history."
Fitch Ratings Ltd. warned on Tuesday that the nation would face similar action if Congress repeated the failure.
As HuffPost's Sabrina Siddiqui reports, Obama also warned that such a failure could lead to a delay in Social Security checks and veterans' benefits and the inability to pay U.S. troops or honor contracts for small business owners, air traffic controllers and food inspectors. If the country failed to meet these obligations, the president argued, investors around the world would question the credibility of the United States.