The following editorial appeared recently in the Chicago Tribune:
President Barack Obama has spent a lot of time lately talking about Congress' obligation to raise the debt ceiling. Failure to do so, he said in his Monday news conference, "would be a self-inflicted wound on the economy. It would slow down our growth and tip us into recession. To even entertain the idea of this happening is irresponsible."
He has vowed not to negotiate on the matter because the "full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip."
Notice the topic this focus allows him to avoid: the need to curb federal spending so that the federal debt doesn't keep expanding at a breakneck pace. The longer the nation frets about the debt ceiling, which the government is expected to hit by March, the longer it postpones the far more consequential debate about how to live within our means.
The president said Monday that he is all for "shrinking our deficits in a balanced and responsible way." But he offered nothing new to reach that goal.
There is an easy solution to this manufactured crisis: a White House agreement with Republican demands for spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.
It's not a higher debt ceiling that fuels spending and deficits. It's higher spending and chronic deficits that lead to a higher debt ceiling. Raising the debt ceiling allows the Treasury to go on borrowing to cover bills that have already been incurred. If the budget were brought into balance, there would be no need.
You can't blame the GOP for trying to use any possible device to force fiscal discipline, since Obama refuses to do that. The debt ceiling, however, is not the right device. Republicans have better options.
The consequences of crashing through the debt ceiling could be dire. Maybe Obama overstates the risks, but no one should want to experience the economic jolt if the government is forced to stop Social Security checks or even default on its bonds.
The GOP has a better route to force the administration to bargain seriously about the fiscal future. As part of the deal to avert the fiscal cliff, the two sides postponed deep automatic spending cuts that had been scheduled to take effect — but only until March 1. If Obama and Congress don't reach a deal to avert them, the sequestration will start slicing big chunks out of the federal budget for both defense and domestic programs.
The president doesn't want that, and in fact he said during the 2012 campaign that "it will not happen." To prevent it, though, he has to get Congress to take action. And Republicans can refuse to act until he accepts some ambitious, long-term spending cuts. If Obama balks, they can let the automatic cuts take effect.
That would strengthen their bargaining position. It would also put the president on the wrong side of an argument he has so far managed to duck. That's why he would rather keep the spotlight on the debt ceiling — and why Republicans should stop letting him.