Fundamentally, the debt ceiling discussion emerges from the most basic tenet of legislative sovereignty – the power of the purse. Thomas Jefferson wrote James Monroe in April 1791 saying: “We are ruined, Sir, if we do not over-rule the principles that ‘the more we owe, the more prosperous we shall be,’ ‘that a public debt furnishes the means of enterprise…’ ”
I began my career here on Capitol Hill with the establishment of the Congressional Budget Office in 1975. Later, as staff on the Senate Budget Committee and in the Majority Leader’s office, I witnessed and participated in many budget standoffs, but one of the first and most memorable was the one that you Mr. Levin and Mr. Rangel will recall in 1985 – the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act. That legislation came about because of the need to raise the statutory debt limit over $2 trillion for the first time.
The debt limit bill has always been politically sensitive. But as the country’s debt has continued to increase as a share of our economy, the need to legislate an increase in the debt limit has become more frequent and more difficult. Since 1940, Congress has increased the debt limit 78 times and based on the actions at the end of the 112th Congress, I estimate that the debt held by the public will continue to rise, reaching 77% by 2022. This must be addressed.
For details on the hearing, click here.