Sunday, February 5, 2023
Feb. 5, 2023

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Congressional View: Debt deal must spare Social Security, not raise taxes

The Columbian

Every day I am asked where I stand on the fast-approaching deadline to raise our nation’s $14.294 trillion credit limit, or “debt ceiling.” Here are the three most important points, and what I will and won’t support.

For decades, Congress and Presidents — of both parties — have overspent using our national credit card. The bills have come due. Economic experts say the U.S. Treasury must raise the debt ceiling by Aug. 2 or face potentially devastating effects to our economy. We also face economic devastation if the national debt is not reduced significantly. There is no painless answer to this problem.

I am not a D.C. veteran, but when I arrived in Congress six months ago, I saw that the debt ceiling issue might provide a way to start bringing federal overspending under control. Watching the posturing on this issue by federal leaders is frustrating, but I know a sensible deal is possible. I do not want Aug. 2 to pass without a solution.

For our country’s economic and financial well-being, we need a deal that meets three main goals. First, it can’t raise tax rates. I can support eliminating tax loopholes that allow big corporations to avoid paying their fair share, for example ethanol subsidies and tax breaks for private jets. To me, closing these kinds of loopholes is about fairness and making sure everybody contributes, but I don’t pretend these items will make more than a small dent in a $14 trillion debt. Any rise in general tax rates would harm Southwest Washington’s families and small businesses when our economy is so weak and so many people struggle to make ends meet. I won’t vote for a plan to raise the general taxes — period.

Second, the deal must protect Social Security from cuts. Social Security has not driven our debt, and I will not support a debt ceiling deal that makes cuts to Social Security in order to cover overspending in other areas. Every month of our working lives our pay stubs show the amount we hand to the government for Social Security, with a promise it will be there for us when we retire. I’ll always vote to make sure the U.S. keeps this promise no matter what kind of mess politicians in D.C. are making. Social Security is not a spending account for politicians’ whims.

Third, this deal must significantly address the overspending. I said leaders of both parties for decades shared responsibility for the overspending that created this giant debt. It’s also true that from 1957 to 2008, federal spending stayed around 20 percent of our gross domestic product. In just the past two years, that number has shot up to 25 percent. That’s $3.7 trillion in new debt, equal to the total amount of debt the U.S. accumulated from 1776 to 1992.

In May, I voted for a detailed budget bill that would gradually reduce federal deficits by $4.4 trillion, close loopholes on big corporations and preserve safety net programs. That bill was not perfect — but it was a huge, serious start at a solution to this crushing national debt. Now, we wait for serious proposals to reduce spending from the Senate and the President. I haven’t seen one yet.

Politicians talk about “kicking the can down the road,” with the “can” representing the national debt. That’s a poor analogy. This debt is like rolling a snowball farther downhill. As it rolls, it grows bigger. Now is the time to act to bring this monster under control. Our nation’s future and the finances of every family is at stake. We are a debtor nation now. We are heading down the path of Greece. We can change course. I will vote to change course. I won’t vote for a plan that rolls the snowball farther downhill.

During my first month in Congress, I cosponsored a Constitutional Amendment that would require the government to not spend more than it brings in annually. Washington state’s constitution requires the Legislature to run a balanced checkbook. This is a common-sense measure that would revolutionize federal spending. In 1996, a similar “Balanced Budget Amendment” failed in Congress by one vote. Had it passed there and among the states, there would be no debt ceiling debate today.

It’s time for Congressional leadership and the president to move forward with a reasonable, timely and responsible solution to the debt ceiling issue.

Jaime Herrera Beutler of Camas represents Washington state’s 3rd Congressional District.