Cal Thomas: The debt limit: Same old song

From the commentary: According to the Congressional Budget Office, Clinton had "budget surpluses for fiscal years 1998-2001, the only such years from 1970 to 2023.

Bonus editorial cartoon for May 3, 2023
Editorial cartoonist Guy Parson draws on the debt limit battle between Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress.
Guy Parson / Cagle Cartoons

The very term "debt limit" makes a mockery of any kind of responsible budgeting. Each time the government reaches the "limit" it gets raised with the familiar scenarios that include threats of a government shutdown (an idea that increasingly appeals to some conservatives) and the claim that the "full faith and credit" of the U.S. is at stake. We have faith and credit? Who knew?

Cal Thomas commentary
Cal Thomas Commentary
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Summary: I once heard the late evangelist Rev. Billy Graham say America was not at a crossroads, but had traveled down the wrong road and needed to come back to the crossroads and take the right road. What if we can no longer agree on the right road and where the wrong road is leading us?
Summary: Donald Trump would do well to withdraw from the field and allow younger and less controversial candidates to replace him. His record of policy successes while president are undeniable (except for those in denial), but his narcissistic personality contributed to his loss. It is also contributing to the work of the January 6 committee. If that committee wishes to "bring us together," it will forgo recommendations of criminal prosecution and let voters decide, as they should and ultimately will, the future of Donald Trump.
Summary: When rhetoric gets heated, perhaps the best way to be heard is to speak in a tone Scripture attributes to God β€” "a still, small voice." As noted by the writer of Proverbs: "A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1)
Summary: Many viewers might want to know why Congress can't seem to fix any of the country's real problems. That perennial question is why increasing numbers of Americans have grown sour about Washington. They see members of Congress more interested in re-election, in their careers and in perks than in the people they are supposed to represent.

Republicans usually cave, or in the case of a shutdown, succumb to media pressure and the Democrats and allow the spending and debt to grow, along with trillions in interest on our $31.4 trillion debt.

And Republicans are no different. President Ronald Reagan took the deficit from $70 billion to $175 billion. Bush41 took it to $300 billion. Clinton got it to zero. Bush43 took it from zero to $1.2 trillion. President Obama halved that to $600 billion. Trump jumped it back to 3.3 trillion.

But maybe not this time? House Republicans have passed a bill that could put Senate Democrats and President Biden on the defensive. Yes, it would raise the debt limit, though only for one year, but it also would do something unheard of in Washington in recent years and that is reduce spending.

The proposed cuts are small - just $4.8 trillion compared to the overall debt - but just as a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, breaking an addiction to constant spending increases and more debt begins with a step in the opposite direction.


Democrats appear interested in focusing solely on the debt ceiling, not the need for spending cuts. Neither do they appear interested in negotiations with Republicans. What happened to President Biden's promise to "lower the temperature" in Washington and restore bipartisanship? Maybe he forgot as he failed to recall his recent trip to Ireland when asked by a child, "What was the last country you traveled to?" Another child had to remind him.

Clearly not interested in the House bill, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said, "I think we need to focus on the debt ceiling. There's an urgency here that absolutely requires immediate attention." Blumenthal did seem to leave the door slightly open to a deal when he added, "I think the president should sit down with Kevin McCarthy to talk about the debt ceiling and then, at some later point, talk about the budget."

That sounds to me like bait and switch. It is reminiscent of the "deal" made between then-Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) with President George H.W. Bush. Wright said he would agree to spending cuts if Bush would first agree to a tax increase. Wright got his tax hike, but Bush never got his spending cuts and the concession doomed Bush's re-election.

Maybe this time things will be different if Republicans can get their message about the danger of massive debt through to the public in time to overcome the Democrats' predictable scenario of a government shutdown. If a corporation engaged in what Democrats are doing it would be called extortion. But the rules don't ever seem to apply to Democrats who keep changing them as needed to maintain political power.

More Commentary:
From the commentary: Whether public pressure can alter the course of the current Supreme Court is not at all a certainty. But with the justices serving with impunity for life, for those who wish to oppose this nation reversing the painful and tortuous progress it has made in moving toward the ideals it claims to espouse, there is little choice but to try.
From the commentary: Now it is up to the whips in the Congress to deliver. I always get nervous when politicians start talking about what the "American people" want, as if anyone can speak for a monolith, let alone one as divided as we are.
From the commentary: It's not yet a done deal. Plenty more could happen before the measure is approved, or not. Whether approved in the current or another form, given past scenarios it is more likely to benefit the politicians and their careers than a majority of overburdened and fed-up taxpayers.

The last Democrat to behave responsibly on the economy was Bill Clinton. According to the Congressional Budget Office, Clinton had "budget surpluses for fiscal years 1998-2001, the only such years from 1970 to 2023. Clinton's final four budgets were balanced budgets with surpluses, beginning with the 1997 budget. The ratio of debt held by the public to GDP, a primary measure of U.S. federal debt, fell from 47.8% in 1993 to 33.6% by 2000."

It's enough to make one nostalgic for those good old economic days.


This Cal Thomas commentary is his opinion. He can be reached at

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