How to repair the debt ceiling

David Bossie President, Citizens United
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In the coming weeks, Congress will consider legislation to raise the debt ceiling. In fact, to actually call it a debt “ceiling” is one of the biggest frauds in the American political lexicon. As our government continues to spend without paying for it, our irresponsible $14 trillion national debt continues to explode, and the debt ceiling moves right along with it. There has got to be a way to force Congress to rein in the debt and be more careful with taxpayers’ money.

To understand how the debt ceiling works (or doesn’t work), one must look to the United States Congress. Congress controls taxation and the annual surpluses and deficits that the federal government accrues. When the government runs a deficit, our national debt goes up. To finance the debt, the United States Treasury Department issues bonds held mostly by China, Russia, and Middle Eastern countries. The purpose of the debt ceiling is to act as a backstop to keep the Treasury Department in check. But Congress has raised the debt ceiling 98 times since 1940, rendering the idea of such a limit virtually useless. The ceiling is more like a goalpost that keeps getting moved because of the federal government’s reckless spending habits.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the federal government posted a record deficit of $223 billion for the month of February alone! That is nearly $8 billion a day in deficit spending that will be added directly to our national debt. It is the largest monthly deficit ever recorded by the federal government, ironically during the shortest month. This madness has to stop or our country will drown in our unsustainable debt. America’s credibility is on the line.

Members of Congress must be held accountable for spending taxpayers’ money. The one way to get the attention of members of Congress is to have a debt ceiling vote automatically triggered when the debt climbs by $100 billion. At the rate the federal government is spending money, these votes would have to be taken often. To accomplish this, the House of Representatives and the Senate would have to change their standing rules. Not an easy task, but it is the most effective way to make sure Congress does not take the easy way out and amend a law.

To give this rule teeth, the vote should require a two-thirds supermajority to continue to fund the government. With this rule in place, raising the debt ceiling would become extremely difficult and Congress would be forced to curb spending or face defaulting on our debt. Some may call this extreme, but when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, says, “The most significant threat to our national security is our debt,” extreme measures must be taken.

For decades, there was a culture of indulgence that led to many Americans looking the other way when it came to fiscal responsibility and our national debt. Our film Generation Zero explains how this selfishness helped lead to our current economic crisis. Thankfully, with the help of the Tea Party movement, Americans are finally waking up and seeing the consequences of carrying such a large national debt. The Hill newspaper has a poll out this week showing 95 percent of all Americans believe that lowering the debt is either very or somewhat important. Americans are realizing that the national debt, as it now stands, will have a devastating impact on their children and grandchildren’s standard of living and they are demanding that Washington take action.

The American people are fully engaged on this issue and the time to act is now. Future generations will look back at this time period and either say that our representatives in Washington got it right, or that they just kicked the can down the road until it fell off the cliff. If members of Congress do not do the right thing now, while they still have a chance, then our best days might well be behind us.

David N. Bossie is the president of Citizens United and Citizens United Productions, and the executive producer of “America at Risk.”