Past Due: Why Can’t Congress Seem to Pay Its Bills on Time?

Categories: Budget

That’s what we and some of the country’s leading economists want to know. You may have heard this on the news, but some in Congress are again refusing to raise the nation’s borrowing limit – known formally as the debt ceiling – so the government can cover costs for programs it has already started. Arguments like this are like arguing whether to pay for lunch you have already eaten.

Raising the debt ceiling doesn’t authorize new spending. When Congress passes funding bills, it sets the amount of money the government is authorized to invest in the country. But when Congress gives away a slew of tax breaks to millionaires and big corporations, resulting in less money coming in, the government needs to borrow – raise the debt ceiling – to pay for things Congress has already approved.

Besides the huge tax breaks for big corporations, which did not create jobs as promised, George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq under bogus intel is a major cause of the deficit. The Iraq war has cost the country $2 trillion, the price tag of which could grow to 6 trillion over the next 40 years due to interest payments.

Failing to agree to pay the bills by Nov. 3 could leave the government without enough money to pay Social Security recipients or military and civilian government employees.

“A vote to raise the debt ceiling isn’t a vote to increase our debt. It’s about paying the bills that Congress has already approved,” AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. said. “Every American is expected to pay his or her bills on time. Congress needs to do the same thing.”

“Delaying the decision to increase the debt limit jeopardizes our economy and our standing in the world,” Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland said during a floor debate on Wednesday. “The mere suggestion that the federal government might miss a payment caused Standard & Poor’s to downgrade our sovereign credit rating from AAA to AA+ after the 2011 debt limit standoff.”

During the last debt limit showdown in 2013, the Government Accountability Office estimates that the 2013 impasse cost the federal government between $38 million and $70 million in added interest payments to service the debt.

“It’s important to remember that the [Bush] administration inherited the biggest budget surpluses in history and promptly squandered them on two ill-conceived tax cuts and a war in Iraq premised on faulty intelligence,” Cardin noted. 

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