Sen. Toomey prepares for debt-ceiling fight in D.C.

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A combative U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey says he is eager to use the looming debt ceiling debate to confront President Barack Obama on spending.

The president insisted Monday that he would not negotiate over congressional approval to lift the borrowing cap, arguing that to do so would be "irresponsible," "absurd," and tantamount to making the U.S. "a deadbeat nation."

In an interview in his Pittsburgh office Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Republican dismissed the president's criticisms, contending that it would be irresponsible for Republicans in Congress to miss the chance to "use this moment to insist that the president agree to some reforms."

"This is too important an opportunity to make progress on the biggest problem the federal government faces," said the former chairman of the Club for Growth.

Mr. Toomey disputed the notion that a debt ceiling battle would do any significant lasting damage to the nation's economy. He argued further that Republicans should continue the effort to starve spending as Congress and the administration approach two more fiscal crossroads -- the postponed deadline for the appropriations sequester, or across-the-board cuts in military and discretionary spending negotiated as part of an earlier debt ceiling confrontation in 2011, and the late March expiration of the continuing resolution that authorizes government spending in the absence of traditional budget legislation.

"For the sake of our economy and the world economy, we have to get off the road to Greece," Mr. Toomey said. "If it takes an unpleasant battle over the debt limit to bring this president to the table, the president who is, I think, outrageously refusing to even have a discussion about this ... he needs to come to the table and have a discussion."

The state's junior senator, who just assumed a seat on the Senate's powerful Finance Committee, acknowledged that allowing the nation to push through the debt ceiling as a prelude to a budget accord could be disruptive but insisted that might be just the short, sharp shock the budget process needs.

He argued that the Treasury Department is, in effect, bluffing when it forecasts that the government would go into default once the debt limit is breached. He contended that ongoing tax revenue would be sufficient to pay the debt service on the country's existing debt. To make sure that it does, Mr. Toomey said he would introduce legislation, similar to a measure he championed in 2011, that would authorize the Treasury to pay interest in the debt, Social Security checks and military payrolls in the absence of a new, higher debt ceiling. Should existing tax revenue fall short of those three demands, he said the bill would allow the government limited borrowing power to meet just those priority items.

The administration and congressional Democrats have rejected that concept in the past, and there seems little likelihood that they would embrace it now.

He also said he favored legislation that would permit discretionary spending, although at a slightly lower level than under current authorizations, if Congress and the administration should fail to reach a spending accord at the end of the current continuing resolution. Federal spending continues under the continuing resolution in the absence of an agreement on normal budget bills. Mr. Toomey said that if Congress and the administration were to adhere to the traditional budget process, it would obviate the need both for a new continuing resolution and the serial brinkmanship that has become the new norm in Washington.

"That would eliminate some of this ridiculous last-minute brinkmanship [and] create an incentive to do the ordinary appropriations process," he said.

Mr. Toomey also rebutted the suggestion that a failure to act on the debt ceiling would have significant, lasting repercussions for world markets. He acknowledged a new fiscal impasse would be "very disruptive" in the short term, but predicted, "We'll get a massive amount of publicity and [that] will likely result in a deal being struck very quickly."

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First Published January 16, 2013 5:00 AM


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