For the fourth time in five years, Congress has raised the nation's debt ceiling -- this time to $9 trillion; it awaits Presidential signature. The Senate's party-line* vote was 52-48; the House approves the increase automatically.
When President Bush assumed office in January 2001, the nation's debt was $5.6 trillion and the budget was in surplus. Total debt has increased 50 percent during his five years in office. In 2005, the debt was equivalent to 60 percent of Gross Domestic Product; when President Reagan took office in 1980, it was 33 percent.
The increase in debt has renewed calls for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the US Constitution. No wonder, since immediately after the vote, Congress set about writing election-year checks: "It was the political equivalent of going on a shopping spree the same day you get a credit-line increase on your over-the-limit card."
By the end of the day, the House Appropriations committee had received 3,602 additional spending requests totaling $14.9 billion. The Senate had proposed attaching an additional $7 billion to a $92 billion budget proposal for the war Iraq and hurricane recovery. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA): "I don't have any apologies to make for this 7 billion. I'm still not satisfied."
So much for last week's rhetoric at the annual Southern Republican Leadership Conference, with its vows to cut spending across the board and calls for a Presidential line-time veto ("Stop me before I spend again!," the Congress pleas). We'll have to wait and see which matters at the ballot box: actions or words.
(*) Details on the party-line vote. Jeffords (I-VT) voted no. Voting counter to their party:
- Yes: Landrieu (D-LA)
- No: Chafee (R-RI), Collins (R-ME), DeWine (R-OH), Ensign (R-NV)