Congress can’t keep raising the debt limit

Sen. Ron Johnson Contributor
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Prior to being elected to the United States Senate last November, I spent 31 years building a plastics manufacturing business in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. My educational background is in accounting and finance, but when you help start a business from scratch, you wind up doing just about everything. I operated machinery, loaded trucks and railcars, hired and trained the staff, kept the books, paid taxes, purchased raw materials, sold our finished products, did payroll, opened mail, emptied trash, and made coffee.

Why am I telling you this?

Because I’m not in the least bit unusual. Every day, millions of hard-working business owners, and the good people that work with them, struggle to build a good life for themselves and their families. They are the backbone of America. They work hard and play by the rules. And they live within their means.

Why can’t Washington?

Because Washington is horribly broken. Over the last 31 years, I’ve watched from afar as Washington became increasingly deaf to the American experience. Now that I’m here, Washington feels like a foreign land — an alternate universe. There is very little here that makes any sense whatsoever.

What seems obvious to the rest of America is beyond the collective grasp of politicians in Washington. How else can one explain borrowing over $4 trillion in an effort to spend our way into prosperity? The rest of us know that when you’re in debt up to your eyeballs, the solution is not to incur more debt. The solution is to control your spending and cut up your credit cards.

Which brings me to my main point: We need to cut up Washington’s credit cards. Limiting what Washington can borrow is the only way we can force our government to prioritize and control its spending. There is no other solution. It will be hard. But if we want to secure our economic future, it has to be done.

Millions of Americans work hard each and every day to make their businesses and households successful. By comparison, when it comes to dealing with the debt crisis, President Obama is just “phoning it in.”

He has delegated his crucial role to Vice President Biden and Treasury Secretary Geithner. The president’s 2,400-page budget, THE supposed solution to the problem, was defeated in the Senate by a vote of ZERO to 97. That is a stunning repudiation of his leadership on the issue. The only action his administration seems to be taking on the debt ceiling is a concerted effort to scare the markets and the American people. Instead, President Obama should be attempting to calm the markets by taking responsible action to solve the problem.

On May 25th, I wrote a letter to President Obama that was signed by 22 of my Republican Senate colleagues. We asked the president to work with us to develop real solutions. We also warned him that it would be highly irresponsible to assume the debt ceiling will be increased without enacting the necessary reforms.

Trust me — that would be a very bad assumption. Washington is dysfunctional, and there is a growing recognition that we simply cannot kick this can down the road any longer. It is time to take a stand, and because of the 2010 election, there just might be enough backbone here to make that stand.

As a result, we asked the president to prepare a contingency plan — just in case. So far, there has been no answer.

President Obama’s FY2012 Budget estimates the federal government will receive $2.6 trillion in revenue next year. This is $800 billion MORE than the $1.8 trillion President Clinton spent in his FY2001 Budget. $2.6 trillion would easily cover all interest on the debt ($256 billion), 100% of Social Security ($760 billion), and still leave almost $1.6 trillion (only $200 billion less that Clinton’s ENTIRE FY2001 budget) to be allocated among essential defense, security, health, and safety spending. It would not be pleasant operating under a “Debt Ceiling Budget,” and no one is recommending it, but it would not have to be a crisis if we develop a “Plan B” (See chart).

Developing a “Plan B” would certainly force Washington to prioritize spending for the first time in a very long time. If nothing else, it would be a highly valuable exercise in determining what in the federal government is essential and what is not. It is an exercise we will have to go through eventually.

Families and businesses do it all time. Someone loses their job, or a business loses a big customer. It’s painful, but families and businesses survive by pulling together and making tough choices. Washington needs to do the same. Why should government be exempt?

It shouldn’t be. And the fact is, we simply can’t afford to exempt it any longer.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) is the co-founder of PACUR, LLC, a plastics manufacturer.