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SPOTLIGHT
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America's debt: No laughing matter

Published on -11/29/2012, 1:39 PM

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Are you kidding me?

That was all I could think to myself when I heard that U.S. Treasury Secretary Geithner said that the U.S. "absolutely" should get rid of the debt ceiling, which is the limit on federal government borrowing.

Having served in Congress for two years now, I thought I had heard it all from the Obama administration, but it appears they have not run out of senseless ideas. At a time when America is more than $16 trillion in debt -- an amount about equivalent to the size of our entire economy -- the last thing we need is to remove the cap on America's credit card.

Two years before becoming president, then-Sen. Barack Obama declared it "unpatriotic" to raise the debt limit. It was probably one of the few times we have been or ever will be on the same page. Yet, as we come to the conclusion of his first term as president, present and future taxpayers are on the hook for $6 trillion more debt and are likely to be responsible for at least $4 trillion more come the end of his second term.

Despite the $6 trillion more debt in his first term, the Obama administration will come to Congress in a matter of weeks and ask that we raise the debt limit. Or, apparently as Secretary Geithner has suggested, get rid of it altogether.

The unfortunate reality is Congress will have to raise the debt limit. That is what happens when Washington borrows 40 percent of what it spends. But, this time the conditions have to be different.

Another deal like the one that was cut by Republicans and Democrats in August 2011 cannot be on the table. Sixteen months after that arrangement, Washington has almost exhausted all of the borrowing, but has not a single cut yet to show for it. The cuts are set to take place on Jan. 1, but the odds are high that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will find a way to finagle out of them.

As it was 16 months ago, the problem in Washington is not that we do not take in enough money. No, the problem is still that we spend too much. Perhaps I sound like a broken record writing that month after month, but Congress and the president have yet to deal with the out-of-control spending.

Voters may have sent mixed messages to Washington by re-electing a Democrat president with a slim 51-percent margin and a Republican-controlled House (where the Constitution prescribes all revenue bills must originate), but exit polls from on Election Day show a pretty clear mandate on the policy direction of Washington: It is time to tackle spending.

Nearly two-thirds of voters said "no" to raising taxes to fix the deficit (meaning spending cuts are the way to go), and by an eight-point margin voters said "government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals" rather than "government should do more to solve problems."

Americans are not looking for higher taxes and more government; they are looking for less of both.

If the next "debt deal" is anything like the last -- guaranteed debt, uncertain spending cuts -- I will again ask: "Are you kidding me?" After all, more debt and more spending is no laughing matter.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler and Hutchinson, represents the First District of Kansas in the U.S. House of Representatives. He serves on the House Budget, Agriculture and Veterans Affairs committees.

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