The outlook after the Iowa caucuses is as clear as mud. No doubt President Barack Obama is delighted that all attention is on the Republican candidates racing to New Hampshire and South Carolina. It gives him cover to quietly raise the federal debt ceiling to a staggering $16.4 trillion dollars, 60 percent higher than when he took office.
The soaring federal debt will doom our children and grandchildren to work harder for a lower standard of living, because they will be forced to surrender their earnings to the nation’s creditors.
Instead of being a nonevent, this month’s debt hike should spark a grilling of the presidential candidates. A year from now, whoever is president will face another debt-ceiling crisis.
The current president has no plan, no remedy, to avert it. Nor does Congress, which has gone nearly 1,000 days without enacting a budget, and punted its responsibility for closing the gap between federal revenues and federal spending to a supercommittee that also failed.
Last summer, when Republicans and Democrats were locked in a noisy public battle over hiking the ceiling to $15.2 trillion, the president vowed not to allow that spectacle to be repeated in an election year. He extracted a guarantee in the August 2 compromise that allowed him to raise the debt ceiling three times without seeking Congress’s approval each time.
Congress got bamboozled into compromising one of the U.S. Constitution’s most important safeguards.
Every president in American history before Barack Obama had to ask Congress’ permission to borrow, until 1917 requesting it for each debt issue, and since then for each debt-ceiling hike. Obama got pre-approved, extracting more borrowing leeway than any of his 43 predecessors.
This month’s debt-ceiling hike may be unstoppable, but we need to hear how the candidates will cut spending to prevent a steady stream of future debt hikes. Gov. Rick Perry had an “Oops” moment and couldn’t remember the three federal agencies he would eliminate.
At this Saturday’s New Hampshire debate, each candidate should have to show up with a one-page plan to cut federal spending, beginning in 2013.
Here is what the front-runners have said so far: At one end of the spectrum is Ron Paul, who is pledging to cut a whopping $900 billion from federal spending his first year in office by trimming the federal workforce 10 percent, eliminating the federal departments of Commerce, Education, Interior, and Housing and Urban Development, bringing troops home from overseas, and stopping all foreign aid (currently bestowed on 176 of the 192 countries in the world).
Rick Santorum, who is coming out of Iowa a winner after placing just eight votes behind first-place Mitt Romney, lays out a bold plan for shrinking federal spending $5 trillion over 5 years. He eliminates funding for the Obama health law, sells off vast quantities of unproductive or unused federal properties, eliminates agricultural and energy subsidies and cuts funds for the U.N. and Planned Parenthood, cuts that are small in dollars but big crowdpleasers.
Newt Gingrich is campaigning as the ultimate supply-sider, stressing how cutting taxes and sweeping away regulations will cause economic growth to explode. His tax reforms are the boldest of any candidate. He is short on specifics about spending cuts per se. But he presents detailed roadmaps for reforming entitlements, such as welfare and Medicare, which eat up the lion’s share of federal revenues.
At the other end of the spectrum is Mitt Romney, who proposes slashing a mere $500 billion from the federal budget in his first term — a more moderate goal — by repealing the president’s health law, turning Medicaid over to the states, reducing the federal workforce 10 percent (as all the candidates do), and cutting federal subsidies to programs he calls “non-essential.”
Voters will want more details from front-runner Romney, who gets the most attention at debates. When he has a detailed agenda of spending cuts, the public will listen.
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