Hoyer, Blue Dogs Take Bite Into Debt Limit

Washington, D.C.–House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) joined the Blue Dog Coalition today in expressing their serious concern about the efforts of the Republican leadership to approve an increase in the statutory debt limit of $800 billion or more without a separate vote or any debate in the House of Representatives:

“After a decade of prattling on about its commitment to fiscal discipline, the Republican majority is now poised to pass a budget resolution conference report that will trigger the largest debt limit increase in American history: $800 billion or more,” said Minority Whip Hoyer.  “And here’s the kicker: there will be no debate on this action.  There will be no vote.  There will only be a growing mountain of debt that threatens to drag our economy down for years to come.”

“Less than eight months after raising the federal debt ceiling by a whopping $450 billion, the Republican leadership is attempting to slip through the largest debt limit increase in history,” said Rep. Charlie Stenholm, Blue Dog Co-Chair for Policy.  “We will gladly work with the president and both parties in Congress to enact a reasonable increase in the debt limit in the context of a long-term fiscally responsible plan.  But we will not support the administration’s request for another blank check to finance its course of deficit spending in perpetuity.”

"We cannot write a blank check for the Administration to raise the statutory debt limit and add to the burden on American taxpayers," said Rep. Tanner (TN), co-chair of the Blue Dog Budget Task Force. "We must see a business plan to get this nation’s finances back on track to ensure we will not need to raise the debt limit every eight months. The President and Congress owe it to future generations to return the government to the days of fiscal responsibility and budget stability."

The Blue Dog budget, which garnered 174 votes in the House and 42 votes in the Senate, would have allowed for an immediate increase in the debt limit to cover the costs of military operations in Iraq, but limited further increases in the debt until Congress and the President had enacted a plan to put us back on a path to a balanced budget. 

In passing the rules package for the 108th Congress, Republicans brought back to life a rule that they repealed with great fanfare only two years ago.   This rule, known as the Gephardt rule, would “spin off” separate legislation increasing the debt limit upon passage of the budget resolution conference report without a separate vote or opportunity for debate on the issue.  Republicans were highly critical of this rule when the House of Representatives was under Democratic control, but they are now pulling an about face by using this rule to avoid taking responsibility for the spiraling national debt. 

The “spin off” bill would provide for an increase in the debt limit to the recommended amount of the debt subject to limit set forth in the budget resolution conference report.  The budget resolution passed by the House of Representatives called for debt subject to limit of $7.264 trillion at the end of fiscal year 2004, an increase of $864 billion from the current $6.4 trillion statutory debt limit, and $11.564 trillion at the end of fiscal year 2013.

"Raising our government's debt limit will only further worsen our existing budgetary problems. Interest rates alone extend the overall cost exponentially," said Rep. Loretta Sanchez (CA).   "If the average American were to continue to raise the limit on a personal credit card to accommodate overspending, we would call it 'irresponsible.' How can we justify the same action using the hard-earned tax dollars of those very same Americans?"

"Enacting a major tax cut while we are at war makes little sense," Rep. Adam Schiff (CA) said.  "Raising the debt limit to do so is the definition of fiscal irresponsibility."

The Concord Coalition concurs with the Blue Dogs, saying that no large scale increase in the debt limit should be approved until Congress and the President agree on a new plan to move towards a balanced budget - including an allocation for the war with Iraq -- preferably without using the Social Security surplus.  Such a plan should include the renewal of appropriations caps and the pay-as-you-go provision for tax cuts and entitlement spending - statutory budget enforcement mechanisms that expired last year.  The rationale for this trade-off is clear: greater flexibility to increase the debt is allowed, but only within the context of a fiscally responsible budgetary framework.