Republicans Pledge To Oppose Paying Debts They Voted For

Annual budget deficits reflect years of policy decisions, not just the most recent spending bills.

Republicans in Congress say they will vote against legislation to increase the amount of money the federal government is allowed to borrow to cover the gap between revenue and spending ― even though they themselves are partly responsible for the deficit.

Reps. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.) and Jim Banks (R-Ind.) announced Monday in an open letter signed by more than 100 of their House colleagues that Republicans wouldn’t vote for a debt limit increase. And they falsely suggested Democrats are entirely responsible for the debt.

“Because Democrats are responsible for the spending, they need to take responsibility for increasing the debt ceiling,” Hern and Banks wrote, echoing a similar letter from Senate Republicans.

Democrats are responsible for the spending, but so are Republicans, who have voted for new spending and tax cuts that contributed to the government’s borrowing needs.

In 2017, for instance, Republicans passed a tax cut ― without a single Democratic vote ― that the Congressional Budget Office estimated would add more than $1 trillion to budget deficits over a decade. (Some Republicans dubiously claimed the law would generate economic growth that would offset the lost revenue.)

“Democrats and Republicans both share responsibility for our current accumulation of debt,” said Marc Goldwein, senior policy director at the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which opposes budget deficits. “Both Democrats and Republicans, sometimes together, sometimes separately, have voted to increase the debt.”

In a statement earlier this month, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen noted that the “vast majority of the debt subject to the debt limit was accrued prior” to President Joe Biden taking office. Yellen has said hitting the debt ceiling would cause “irreparable harm to the U.S. economy and the livelihoods of all Americans.” The government could wind up unable to pay bondholders or beneficiaries of programs like Social Security retirement insurance.

In their letters, Republicans have not said that the debt ceiling shouldn’t be raised from its current position of $22 trillion. And they’re not making any specific demands that spending cuts accompany a debt limit increase, like they did during the Obama administration in 2011. They’re just saying Democrats should handle the debt limit themselves.

“They have total control of the government, and the unilateral ability to raise the debt ceiling to accommodate their unilateral spending plans,” Monday’s letter said.

But Democrats have said they’ll leave the debt limit out of the $3.5 budget reconciliation they’re planning to pass this fall without any Republican support, meaning the two parties are essentially playing a game of chicken over a debt default.

The Congressional Budget Office has said the federal government will probably run out of cash sometime in October or November.