Congress: Stop Scaring Us


October 15, 2015

Halloween debt limit clockThe clock is ticking. Soon after Halloween, the federal government will reach its limit on borrowing. That means the U.S. would not be able to meet all its obligations – payments to bondholders and everything government does, from Social Security checks to federal worker pay to Medicare and Medicaid bills.
Tell Congress: Don’t scare us – get to work! Increase the debt limit and #StopTheCuts.

There are several ways to tell them. Send an email. Add your Tweet to a Twitterstorm on October 21. Post a blog (check out MomsRising’s blog next Wednesday morning for a #StoptheCuts Blog Carnival that CHN is cosponsoring). You can even pick up the phone (Call the Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121, and ask for your Rep. or Senators).

Whatever you choose – please speak out. Members of Congress must get to work now: to stop the cuts and economic disaster from refusing to pay the government’s bills, and to stop the cuts that will come if Congress does not agree to loosen restrictive budget caps. With so much at stake, they should act this month to prevent the self-inflicted wounds of debt ceiling disaster and impending cuts to everything from Head Start to meals on wheels to low-income housing. We’ve got Halloween ghouls and monsters – we don’t need Congress to be scary.

Background: In the past, Congress routinely raised the limit to match the spending it had already approved. But in 2011 and 2013, some in Congress tried to set conditions for increasing the limit. They wanted to tie the increase to cuts in domestic programs. Economists and business leaders warned that the outcome would be catastrophic: abruptly reducing spending and/or failing to pay U.S. bondholders would result in job losses, higher interest rates, and damage to the U.S. economy, not to mention the direct hardships to individuals receiving Social Security, SNAP, or other benefits, federal workers, and federal contractors.

Failing to provide the Treasury with the authority to pay bills Congress has already run up is about as irresponsible as it gets. But once again there are members of Congress who would threaten default. Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX), head of the Republican Study Committee, has announced he will propose legislation restricting spending on entitlement programs (no details yet, but that category includes Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, SNAP, SSI, etc.). In the past, such proposals have also required steps towards a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget. Similarly, members of the right wing House Freedom Caucus have talked about setting conditions on any increase in the debt limit. The Obama Administration has consistently refused to negotiate on this issue, and it appears that most members of Congress do not want to mess with the “full faith and credit” of the United States. Still, when the House leadership is so unsettled, there is more uncertainty about whether extreme members will be able to hold U.S. borrowing authority hostage in an attempt to force more cuts.

Further, Congress has put off key decisions on funding programs for all of this fiscal year. A temporary spending bill is in place until December 11. But Congress should be agreeing on higher spending totals now – to prevent the sequester cuts from taking effect once again. Once they stop these cuts, they can provide the funds for full-year, full-day Head Start, or to restore rental housing vouchers lost the last time sequestration was fully in effect (in 2013). If the sequester cuts kick in again this year, domestic appropriations will have been cut 17 percent since FY 2010, leaving them the lowest as a share of the economy in the last 50 years. (For a little more on the sequestration cuts.)

There are 16 days until Halloween. About 400 hours (depending on when you’re reading this). If Congress gets to work, they don’t have to scare America’s families, seniors, home care workers, teachers, federal employees, and financial markets. Tell Congress the clock is ticking, and you’re expecting them to do their job.

Budget and Appropriations
debt ceiling
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