Debt ceiling skyrockets to $16 trillion

The Senate on Thursday refused to side with House Republicans and block President Barack Obama’s request to raise the debt limit $1.2 trillion, clearing the way for an automatic increase that will bring the national liability to $16 trillion.

The procedural vote to block the debt increase was supported by Senate Republicans and opposed by Democrats in a mostly party-line vote of 44-52. Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts was the only Republican to side with Democrats while two Democrats voted “no” with Republicans, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska. 

“We should be working together to lower the debt, not having votes to increase it,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). “But the president must be willing to face this crisis head on. He must be willing to acknowledge how serious this issue is.”

Since Obama took office in January 2009, the debt has increased $4.61 trillion, according to the Treasury Department.

“More spending, more debt, fewer jobs — that’s what we’ve gotten from this administration, and now they want to make it worse,” McConnell said.

“Americans are worried and they’re frustrated. Middle class families are doing without, why can’t Washington? We’ll, we believe it can,” McConnell said. “So Republicans today will send a simple message to the White House, no more blank checks. Democrats have been in charge of the Senate and the White House for three years. They’ve had the time they need to figure this out, they’ve chosen the path of blame, instead. They’ve had their chance, they’ve made it worse — we must do better.”

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of  the Senate Finance Committee, said raising the debt limit would not authorize new spending or signal an increase in future outlays, although he acknowledged that the treasury needs this increase to pay bills for money the federal government has already spent.

“The U.S. would default in the first time in its history,” Baucus said. “It would send a message to the world that the U.S. does not keep its promises. We’ve got to pay the bills.”

The House passed the resolution of disapproval last week 239-176 with largely Republican support. It is the only option now available to Congress to prevent automatic debt increases that are triggered by the Budget Control Act that both chambers agreed to in August.

The Budget Act also created a SuperCommittee to make spending cuts to offset the debt increases, but that panel failed to come up with a solution and has since dissolved.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R–PA) said the country is heading towards a fiscal crisis and now is not the time for the government to apply for another credit card.

“This is the sixth time President Obama has asked for an increase in the debt limit, and it’s time to force Congress, this administration and the federal government to live within their means,” Toomey said.

Republicans say federal spending is so out-of-control that the total debt is larger than the entire economy, and the new request brings the total debt limit to more than 108 percent of the gross domestic product.

“Given the recent experience in Europe, it is disconcerting to hear repeated calls by the grow-government-at-all-costs crowd to double down on failed government initiatives to stimulate the economy by borrowing even more,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R–Utah).  “Rates are cheap, they say, so let’s continue riding the debt bubble as far as we can. We know how this story ends.”