And the debt keeps rising

  • Posted: Sunday, February 16, 2014 12:01 a.m.

House Speaker John Boehner voted against raising the debt ceiling Tuesday. But he took that stand only after he allowed the measure to come to the floor, where it passed by a 221-201 margin.

So some right-wing radio stars and Tea Party conservatives aren't just criticizing the 28 Republicans who voted "yes." They're criticizing Rep. Boehner, who voted "no" - and again demanding that GOP House members find a new speaker.

But beyond that tedious political drama lies this ominous fiscal reality: The national debt is a record $17.3 trillion after climbing by more than $6 trillion in the last five years. Now it will keep ascending.

And this boost, passed by the Senate Wednesday, is a "clean" debt-ceiling bill - as in containing no requirements for spending cuts.

At least it sets the stage for restoring cuts in benefits to military veterans - a misguided, unfair compromise in the December budget deal.

Not only would it have been profoundly unfair to renege on financial promises to our vets with reductions that would severely undermine their personal finances while making only a minuscule dent in the national debt.

Such cuts would undermine the credibility of the armed forces' ongoing pitches to prospective recruits.

Meanwhile, attempts by longtime members of the Republican establishment to put all of the blame for the runaway debt on Democrats are undermined by the national debt's nearly $5 trillion rise on President George W. Bush's watch.

The latest debt-ceiling increase also put some Senate Republicans on the spot. Among the dozen Republicans who refused to join Texas colleague Ted Cruz' bid to block the debt-ceiling vote via a filibuster threat were Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and John Coryn of Texas, who both face Tea Party challengers in GOP primaries this year.

Those opponents quickly condemned the anti-filibuster decisions by Sens. McConnell and Cornyn as evidence of their lack of resolve on the budgetary front.

But both of our state's senators, Republicans Lindsey Graham (who has primary challengers) and Tim Scott (who doesn't), voted to sustain the filibuster threat.

Still, many GOP lawmakers who have strongly pushed for spending restraint learned hard lessons from the federal-shutdown debacle last fall, when their party took most of the public blame for that fiasco.

Again, though, that's mere politics.

This, however, is the bottom line:

Until elected officials in Washington summon the political courage to make difficult spending (and taxing) decisions over both the short and long terms, the national debt will keep soaring. The way-overdue need to reform federal entitlements tops that list of hard calls.

And "clean" is a very misleading word for yet another congressional measure that will saddle future generations with even more crippling debt.

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