The ‘Until Then’ problem

Published 10:59 am Friday, March 7, 2014

by Randy Forbes

Earlier this month, the House voted – without my support – to pass yet another debt ceiling hike. It was the fourth hike since 2011. This time the bill suspended the debt limit until March 15, 2015.

Plenty of people have written about the bill. Others have written about the differences between setting and suspending the debt limit. I want to focus on a small but significant phrase that represents a mentality that has become a foundational problem in our approach to government spending: until March 15, 2015.

Over the past couple of years, conversations about government spending, the debt, and the debt limit have gone something like this: We’ll just spend until we are forced to address the issue. We have a year until it becomes a crisis. We don’t need to address it again until then. The problem with this “until then” mentality is that Washington approaches the situation as if we are suddenly given that amount of time to spend more, delay cuts, and push the issue under the rug until that pesky deadline comes up again.

We face an almost unfathomable debt of over $17 trillion, equal to $54,700 per person. In five short years, the debt is projected to climb to over $20 trillion. The U.S. is expected to add three times more debt than the Eurozone over the next five years. As of June 2013, China held nearly $1.3 trillion in U.S. debt, nearly 23 percent of all foreign-held debt.

We aren’t bordering on a spending crisis – we are in a spending crisis. In many cases, some view the debt ceiling as a chance to diffuse the spending and debt crisis. In that way, Washington approaches the national debt as if it is just another policy up against another deadline. But we cannot rely on the debt ceiling as the reason we start to discuss ways to control spending. Controlling spending has to happen before the “until.”

We need a mind-shift when it comes to the debt ceiling. Rather than an “until” mentality, we need a “now” mentality. We need to address spending in a meaningful way now, before the debt ceiling deadline. As Thomas Jefferson said, “growth and entailment of a public debt, are indications soliciting the employment of a pruning knife.” The period between now and the debt-ceiling deadline is not a time to fill with more spending until it’s necessary to address it. The period between now and the debt-ceiling deadline is the time for pruning.

For years, I have warned about the threat of our mounting national debt, and America simply cannot afford to ignore what is painfully apparent. For 11 years, I have said that now is the time to address our existing debt with urgency. Now is the time to end duplicative and wasteful programs. Now is the time to pass a Balanced Budget Amendment. Now is the time to roll back burdensome and costly regulations. And now is the time to reform the tax code and remove loopholes.

Accountability to the American taxpayers doesn’t happen when we’re at the deadline. Real accountability happens in what we decide to do now. We already have options on the table – we must get them done.

U.S. Rep. RANDY FORBES, R-Va., represents Western Tidewater in the U.S. House of Representatives. His e-mail address is