Our national debt now stands at $20 trillion. That's $146,000 for every American household. Just mentioning such a terrifying number should be redundant at this point, but recent announcements by the U.S. Treasury Department pushing for a "clean" debt ceiling increase by the end of September demonstrates that the point bears repeating.
This "clean" increase would simply increase the borrowing authority of the government while irresponsibly ignoring the urgency of reforms.
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 suspended the debt limit until March of this year. Since then, the Treasury has been using so-called extraordinary measures to manage the debt. Secretary Mnuchin's announcement of the exhaustion of these extraordinary measures in September brings us to the latest manufactured crisis.
Let's be clear. The debt ceiling needs to be raised. Nobody is advocating for a course of action that risks a fiscal crisis for the country. But the debt ceiling increase needs to be accompanied by reforms to address the problems that cause it. We can't afford to kick this can down the road. Otherwise, Republicans lose credibility the next time we point out (as we often do) that the national debt is a serious problem.
Over the last several decades, each time we reached the debt limit, it served as a wakeup call that forced Congress to take steps to address the problem – a growing federal government – that caused us to need to raise the debt limit in the first place. This time should be no different.
Even though Republicans and Democrats are divided on nearly every issue, they unite on one point in their campaign rhetoric: the status quo must change. Nobody runs for office on a platform that things are perfect and they should stay the same. The problem is that voting for a "clean" debt ceiling is a commitment to maintaining the status quo they all supposedly hate so much. A "clean" debt limit increase puts a blessing on our unsustainable spending trajectory and continues to heap debt on the next generation.
Another problem with a "clean" increase is that if it lacks the votes to pass, which appears to be so, congressional leaders load it up with even more increased spending and must-pass legislation to attract the necessary votes. Historically, this is done by reaching across the aisle to produce a bill that is as unsavory politically as it is fiscally.
Republicans control the House, Senate, and White House. Any legislation signed into law needs to reflect unified government. It is what our voters expected when they brought this historic party unity, and it is how they will measure our success. The buck stops with us. After all, the GOP platform says "We must impose firm caps on future debt, accelerate the repayment of the trillions we now owe in order to reaffirm our principles of responsible and limited government, and remove the burdens we are placing on future generations."
Ultimately, we need to take incremental steps to our ultimate goal: to eliminate the need for a debt ceiling increase at all. Ideally, we should not have to vote for a debt ceiling increase because the government lives within its means and produces a surplus. The Republican Study Committee, which I chair, released a budget in July that identifies $10 trillion in spending reforms and provides a blueprint to balance the budget in six years, all the while ensuring a strong national security, robust economic growth, equal opportunity for all, a sustainable social safety net, and a return to constitutionally limited government.
Beyond just preventing a debt crisis, Congress should take steps when negotiating this debt limit increase to address any future fiscal crises. RSC members Tom McClintock and David Schweikert have offered legislative solutions. McClintock's Default Prevention Act would protect the full faith and credit of the United States so that the risk of default is removed if a debt limit is ever reached.
Schweikert's Debt Ceiling Alternative Act would help the Treasury manage debt more effectively, rescind unspent funds to pay down the debt, and sell unneeded federal property. Both these measures are steps in the right direction.
Republicans need to follow through on our promises to address our nation's debt problem in a substantial way, not just talk about it. Any "clean" increase is a denial of the real problem and puts our nation's fiscal stability at risk.
Rep. Mark Walker, a Republican representing North Carolina's sixth congressional district, is chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the House's largest conservative caucus.
Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.