We can't just stand athwart debt ceiling yelling 'No!' 

On Friday, the Tea Party Patriots dropped by our offices. They are an eminently praiseworthy group whose goal of limiting government is dear to my heart.

The TPPers' pitch concerned the statutory limit on our federal government's debt, which currently stands at $14.3 trillion. The federal government is on pace to reach that limit this year, and Congress is debating whether, how, and how much to raise it. The TPPers' message to me: Just don't do it.

Unfortunately, we've all been desensitized to this issue by President Obama's Chicken Little rhetoric about a supposed need to raise the debt ceiling immediately and without condition. This is nonsense. We can go on for months before our nation is in any danger of defaulting on its debt.

Still, most people seem to understand that one way or another, the debt ceiling must be raised. So I was intrigued to hear the TPPers argue otherwise.

Seventy percent of Americans do not want this, they told me. And indeed, the Republican staffers I know on Capitol Hill are acutely aware of the wrath their bosses will incur by voting to raise it.

They are also aware that it is completely necessary. It will help the debate if everyone understands why.

What sort of cuts would we have to make in order to avoid increasing the debt limit this year? Imagine that Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are still sitting across from each other at the negotiating table in early April, deciding how much to cut from discretionary spending for the rest of fiscal 2011. Imagine that, instead of the small cuts they agreed to in real life, they decided to cut ... everything.

Don't just cut out NPR and Planned Parenthood funding, or even just the Departments of Education and Energy. We're talking serious cuts here: Lay off the entire federal work force for six months.

Stop paying the electrical and water bills in federal buildings. Open up the prisons. Stop patrolling the border. Stop paying soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq -- they can all hitchhike their way home.

Had this happened on April 1, it would have saved us $688 billion through the end of the fiscal year (Sept. 30). And guess what? That still would not be enough to avoid raising the debt ceiling, which we are currently on pace to exceed by $738 billion.

So having zeroed out all discretionary spending, Congress would then have to find another $50 billion in savings from entitlement programs. An immediate 20 percent reduction in everyone's Social Security check would be just enough, according to my back-of-the-envelope calculation.

Do you suppose that 70 percent of Americans want that?

The cold reality of the debt-ceiling math underscores the severity of our spending problem up to now. It also demonstrates the inevitability of further borrowing.

It's a question of math, not of speculation or politics. To whatever degree conservatives stand athwart mathematics and yell "Stop!" they become irrelevant to this debate.

On the other hand, the debt ceiling vote represents a major opportunity for conservatives to win large spending cuts. In his remarks to the Economic Club of New York Tuesday evening, Boehner suggested that Obama can buy each dollar increase to the debt limit with more than a dollar in spending cuts.

Perhaps Boehner will get a better deal or a worse one. Conservatives will and should judge him on his performance, as they judged him on his performance in April.

But that's where the debate is now. And the idea of simply refusing to raise the debt limit? Not going to happen.

David Freddoso is The Examiner's online opinion editor. He can be reached at dfreddoso@washingtonexaminer.com.

About The Author

David Freddoso

David Freddoso came to the Washington Examiner in June 2009, after serving for nearly two years as a Capitol Hill-based staff reporter for National Review Online. Before writing his New York Times bestselling book, The Case Against Barack Obama, he spent three years assisting Robert Novak, the legendary Washington... more
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