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Enough With the Fiscal Cliffs Already

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Not every issue is a fiscal cliff.

This week we had a real fiscal cliff that needed to be addressed. Without action by Congress, tax rates for millions of middle-class families were set to rise. Tax breaks like the child tax credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the tuition tax credit were about to expire. Two million Americans were at risk of losing their unemployment insurance. More than 30 million Americans would have been hit with the Alternative Minimum Tax. And seniors on Medicare were in danger of losing access to their doctors.

But now -- just days after we resolved this crisis -- Republicans on Capitol Hill are setting the stage for another fight, another "cliff" and another chance for more brinksmanship and more hostage-taking.

Over the next couple months, members of Congress will have the responsibility of raising the debt ceiling, setting a budget for the coming year and deciding whether to allow $1.2 trillion in spending cuts to take effect.

This is not a fiscal cliff. This is our job.

Let's start with the debt ceiling. Since 1944, the debt ceiling has been increased 94 times. During President Reagan's two terms, it was raised 18 times.

We raise the debt ceiling for a simple reason: to pay our bills. As President Obama said this week, Congress can't stop paying the tab for things that Congress has already approved. Not only would it be reckless and wrong, it would have devastating consequences for our economy and our people.

Just look at what happened the last time Republicans threatened to default on our debt in the summer of 2011: Our nation's credit rating was downgraded for the first time in history and our economic recovery was nearly derailed as consumer confidence plummeted and businesses slashed investments. A recent study found that the delay in raising the debt limit will end up costing taxpayers $18.9 billion.

Despite that horrific experience, Republicans are now eager to take our economy and the American people to the brink once again. Leading GOP lawmakers are publicly threatening a default that could push our country back into a recession if their demands are not met.

That's not governing, that's extortion.

That is why last Congress I introduced legislation to bring some sanity back to the debates over the debt ceiling. The measure, modeled on language in the Budget Control Act written by Senator McConnell, would set clear timetables for considering a debt limit increase. Congress would still have the chance to approve or disapprove a debt ceiling increase, but under an expedited process that would ensure that we would never again risk defaulting on nation's debt.

Another way that we can avoid these future stand-offs is to prevent any member of Congress or the President from being paid if the Federal Government fails to raise the debt limit, resulting in a default. Senator Casey and I had legislation to do just that, which passed the Senate unanimously in March 2011. It's time to enact the measure and send lawmakers a message: If you don't fulfill your most basic responsibility to the American people, you don't deserve to get paid.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan warned of the dangers of failing to raise the debt limit. He wrote, "The full consequences of a default -- or even the serious prospect of default -- are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate. Denigration of the full faith and credit of the United States would have substantial effects on the domestic financial markets and on the value of the dollar in exchange markets. The Nation can ill afford to allow such a result."

President Reagan was right. We couldn't afford to play politics with the debt limit back then -- and we shouldn't now.

We should raise the debt ceiling. We should address the sequester and reduce the deficit in a balanced way that protects the middle class, the poor and seniors. And we should quickly approve a budget that preserves important investments in education, transportation, health care and other priorities that are critical to our country's future.

The American people are tired of these phony, manufactured crises. They want us to end the fighting and the brinksmanship. They want us to sit down, work together and find common ground without resorting to threats and intimidation.

In other words, they expect us to do our jobs.