THE BLOG

Enough Is Enough: Congress Must Pay Its Bills

Oct 21, 2013 | Updated Dec 21, 2013

How much more pain and uncertainty do Americans have to endure before Congress decides that it should pay the bills it has racked up? Businesses and families must always pay their bills and so must Congress.

The first time lawmakers flirted with a disastrous default on our nation's bills back in 2011, the stock market plunged 2,000 points, consumer confidence hit a 31-year low, Standard and Poor's downgraded our credit rating for the first time in history, and it cost taxpayers $18.9 billion over 10 years.

The recent government shutdown and near-default may prove to be even more costly -- taking $24 billion out of our economy, slashing 0.6 percent off of fourth-quarter GDP growth, and leading Fitch Ratings to put our country on "negative watch" because of what it called "repeated brinksmanship."

It's time to end these self-inflicted wounds once and for all -- and Americans should demand that.

After the first debt ceiling debacle in 2011, I introduced a bill called the USA AAA Credit Restoration Act. It was based on an idea by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell that would allow Congress to have its say on our debt limit without jeopardizing the full faith and credit of the United States.

The bill is very simple: Each year, on the same day the President's budget is submitted to Congress, the Treasury Secretary would be required to publish in the Federal Register an estimate of how much the debt limit would need to be raised for the following year.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate would have a chance to debate the proposed increase and vote on it. But the bill would also provide certainty to taxpayers and financial markets by ensuring that the Administration's request would become law unless a veto-proof majority rejected it. The National Journal recently praised the approach as a "foolproof way to avoid a future crisis."

Congress has used this "disapproval" process to get us out of the last two default crises. In 2011, 74 Senators and 269 House members supported it as part of the Budget Control Act, and just last week 81 Senators and 285 House members backed it as part of the bill that ended the government shutdown and the threat of default.

If this bipartisan approach was good enough to provide stability for our economy and our country in the short-term, why not embrace it for the long-term?

We must end the dangerous practice of using the full faith and credit of the United States as a bargaining chip. As Warren Buffett put it, "It ought to be banned as a weapon. It should be like nuclear bombs, basically too horrible to use."

The creditworthiness of our country is just too important. President Reagan once said, "The United States has a special responsibility to itself and the world to meet its obligations. It means we have a well-earned reputation for reliability and credibility -- two things that set us apart from much of the world."

That's why the debt ceiling was raised 18 times under Reagan, five times under President George H.W. Bush, six times under President Bill Clinton, and seven times under President George W. Bush. We paid our bills without putting our economy and our credit rating at risk.

By now, it should be clear to everyone in Washington that the American people are tired of these political games that are hurting our families. We are just getting out of the worst recession since the Great Depression and we cannot afford any more manufactured crises.

We should all agree that Congress must fulfill its two most basic responsibilities -- keeping the government open and paying our bills. We can start to regain the public's confidence and restore our reputation around the world by passing the USA AAA Credit Restoration Act.