What is the job of the Senate?

In a January 3 column on Huffington Post, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) made the case that Congress (and especially Republicans) should stop with “brinksmanship” and “hostage-taking.” Boxer argued that threatening to not raise the debt ceiling is extortion, and that “[t]he American people are tired of these phony, manufactured crises. They want us to end the fighting and the brinksmanship. They want us to sit down, work together and find common ground without resorting to threats and intimidation.

In other words, they expect us to do our jobs.”

These are interesting charges by Senator Boxer, especially considering that it’s been 1,349 days since her chamber passed a budget. It’s a chamber whose majority consists of her party, and whose legal duties include passing a budget resolution by April 1 of each calendar year. Perhaps she should take the log out of the eye of her own leadership before haranguing those who oppose Congress’ fiscal irresponsibility.

Second, she is correct that any debt ceiling debate is a manufactured crisis. If Washington had stopped the overspending decades ago, or even as short a time as a few years ago, we wouldn’t be reaching yet another debt ceiling. Yet in her column, Senator Boxer calls for more spending in “a budget that preserves important investments in education, transportation, health care and other priorities that are critical to our country’s future.” Never mind that we can’t afford these so-called investments, and that many of them are likely unconstitutional.

Third, the Senator seems to forget it was Democrats who did the hostage-taking in recent months. As Tea Party Patriots wrote on December 1, 2012, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) held the middle-class hostage over ideological support for tax increases on the “wealthy.” She and other proponents of big government would rather raise taxes for “fairness” and “a balanced approach” than eliminate what is causing our deficits: overspending.

Fourth, Senator Boxer says that “[w]e raise the debt ceiling for a simple reason: to pay our bills.” This is not true. The debt ceiling does not get raised to pay bills already in hand. It goes up to pay for future spending. It also gives the current Congress the chance to check the fiscal irresponsibility of past Congresses, who then do not have to deal with the consequences of their decisions. It would behoove Senator Boxer to get this correct.

Finally, Senator Boxer writes that Congress “should raise the debt ceiling. We should address the sequester and reduce the deficit in a balanced way that protects the middle class, the poor and seniors.” Considering we just had tax increases on 77% of Americans, with absolutely minimal “spending cuts,” it is arguable that deficit reduction is already happening in an unbalanced way. (Assuming, of course, the tax increases go towards deficit reduction, not more spending.) Second, without reforms to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and national defense – nearly 60% of the federal budget – it will indeed be the poor, middle class, and seniors who see the consequences of kicking the proverbial can down the road.

As America gets closer to yet another debt ceiling, it is up to all parties and all federally elected officials to work together to stop overspending. Unfortunately, it appears that Senator Boxer is going to continue to let ideology, not fiscal reality, dictate how she participates in the process.

Note: Multiple requests for comment to Senator Boxer’s office for specifics on what she would consider a “balanced approach” went unanswered. If her office gets back to me, this post will be updated.