In an all-too-familiar saga, the White House and the GOP reached an eleventh-hour deal this week to raise the debt ceiling – again. The agreement came just days before a threatened default on November 3 and, if passed, would set the federal budget through spring of 2017.
Hardline conservatives have justified these repeated bouts of brinksmanship under the guise of “fiscal responsibility.” As House Freedom Caucus co-founder Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) told The Hill, “The whole purpose to have a debt ceiling is to sit back and use it as an opportunity to figure out why you’re borrowing so much money.”
So it’s notable that among true budget hawks – fiscal policy experts who’ve championed reform for decades – this repeated hostage-taking on the debt limit is dismaying. In fact, many of the nation’s most respected budget and fiscal policy experts now want dramatic reforms to the debt limit – or to abolish it altogether.
“It’s a dangerous and hypocritical move to play games with the nation’s creditworthiness in the name of ‘fiscal responsibility,’” said Phil LaRue of the Concord Coalition, which has called for budget reform since the early 1990s.
Even the ultra-hawkish Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) has had enough. In a March 2015 report calling for debt limit reform, the group pronounced that “the current debt limit is perhaps too blunt and too dangerous a tool.”
The implications of this consensus are clear: Far from fiscally responsible, the Freedom Caucus’ tactics around the debt limit are in fact the height of fiscal recklessness.
While Congress has so far managed to avoid the catastrophe of a true default, every near-default has roiled the financial markets and jeopardized the nation’s economic stability – while at the same time failing to bring the nation any closer to long-term budgetary and fiscal reform.