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Congress now looking to raise national debt limit

Coming as it did in a crush of important news about events in Haiti, Massachusetts, Afghanistan and elsewhere, something that happened this week in the U.S. Senate may have been overlooked by some Americans. Yet it had more long-range ramifications than anything else in the news.

Members of Congress have begun debating an increase in the official limit on the nation’s debt past the current $12.4 trillion. Action by Congress to increase the limit on the national debt stalled Wednesday, when some members suggested the current restriction, $12.4 trillion, be increased by $1.9 trillion.

The debt will pass $12.4 trillion soon, so Congress must act. But the plan to tack a $1.9 trillion increase on the limit means two things:

One, some members want to increase the limit by enough that they do not have to act again before the November elections — and, two, they fear the debt will increase so much by then, the ceiling must be raised by another $1.9 trillion.

Much like the weather, the national debt is a topic about which many politicians talk, but few are willing to do anything. The most popular suggestion in Washington now is to appoint a bipartisan commission to study the problem and recommend changes. Proponents of the idea say it worked in 1982-83, when the Social Security program nearly collapsed. The commission proposed ideas that saved Social Security, at least for a time.

But cynics have responded — rightly — that the Social Security panel would not have worked had then-President Ronald Reagan and then-House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill not been committed to reform.

They are right, and that points up the difficulty with a commission on the national debt. Unless Democratic and Republican leaders are committed to reform, the panel won’t work.

The (Tiffin) Advertiser-Tribune, Jan. 25