Echoing the words of many other lawmakers who voted with him, U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-Genoa Township) said in an interview with the Gazette that the debt-ceiling increase bill passed this week is a “first step” toward a more sustainable future for the United States government.
Tiberi, a close political ally of Republican U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, of West Chester, worked to gain Republican support for the bill during contentious negotiations. While Tiberi is concerned about defense spending cuts contained in the bill, he said it represents a “sea change” for federal spending and a political victory for Republicans.
“This is good that we’ve had this debate, and we’re going to continue to have this debate,” Tiberi said via phone from his Central Ohio office. “I don’t think you’re going to see any more debt ceiling increases in the future that won’t have a component that tries to reform how Washington spends money, or like we did this year, having a dollar-to-dollar match.”
The bill, signed into law earlier this week by Democratic President Barack Obama just hours before the U.S. would have been unable to pay its creditors, increases the U.S. borrowing capacity by $900 billion this year. Also in the bill are matching $900 billion in cuts in discretionary federal spending over the next 10 years, with most taking effect after 2014.
It also establishes a 12-member bipartisan “supercommittee,” which will work to identify an additional $1.5 trillion in cuts. Entitlement programs, including social programs Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and national defense spending, could all be on the table. And if that committee fails to act by Nov. 23, 2012, the bill triggers automatic cuts throughout the budget, including a 50 percent cut in national security and defense spending.
Finally, the bill requires a vote on adding a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
While 174 House Republicans voted “yes” on the debt ceiling bill, 66 House Republicans, including two from Ohio, voted “no.” That includes Rep. Michelle Bachman (R-Minnesota), who has made her opposition to raising the debt ceiling one of her main talking points during her campaign for GOP presidential nominee.
Tiberi said a U.S. failure to pay its bills is unacceptable, and would be politically and economically damaging.
“Even if you’re not technically in default, you’re not paying your bills,” Tiberi said. “And that sends a very bad message to investors and to the American public.”
While the bill failed to gain support from Bachman and some other more conservative Republicans, Tiberi said Boehner deserves credit for forcing Democrats to frame the discussion around spending cuts — and not tax hikes. That’s particularly notable considering that proposals from Obama and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) included increasing taxes on high earners, but failed to gain any traction, Tiberi said.
“A supermajority of members, including a majority of the Tea Party Caucus, which Michelle Bachman founded, voted for it. And that’s because I think, at the end of the day, most members believed we needed to raise the debt ceiling because we needed to pay our bills,” Tiberi said. “In doing so, we actually were able to control the debate during the process.”
“We only control one half of one-third of the federal government. But the parameters of the debate were essentially agreed to by President Obama and Sen. Reid,” Tiberi said.
So what about arguments from Democrats who voted against the bill — including all five Ohio representatives — that cuts in federal programs will hurt the elderly and poor? And then there’s a July 13 Gallup poll, in which the largest percentage of respondents — 32 percent — said Congress should balance the budget equally with spending cuts and tax increases.
Tiberi said programs like Medicare provide security, including to his parents, but they need to be restructured. And, the United States already taxes the upper income brackets enough, Tiberi said. The real problem is federal spending — which Tiberi said is at the highest percentage of the U.S. economy since World War II.
“For too many years, Washington was about being all things to all people,” Tiberi said. “We’ve got to make touch choices.
That could include adding an income requirement to Medicaid that would while subsidizing the poor, make richer people more to buy into the system. That plan, authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconson), also would close loopholes that exempt 50 percent of Americans (toward the lower end of the income scale) from paying federal income taxes.
“It’s controversial, but defensible,” Tiberi said. “And we’re not saying this is the only plan we’ll support, but it’s the only plan that’s out there right now. We have to do something.”
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.