12/15/2009 - As one of their last official acts in 2009, members of Congress are debating whether to let the federal government go more deeply into debt. The issue is the country's debt ceiling, or the statutory limit on the amount Washington can borrow. The exercise may be familiar, given that Congress has raised the debt ceiling three times in the past two years. But the context is different. The deficit in the fiscal year that ended Oct. 31 was $1.4 trillion, or almost 10% of the country's gross domestic product -- the highest level since World War II. And the national debt, which didn't reach $6 trillion until 2002, now stands at $12 trillion. Interest payments on that debt consumed nearly $200 billion of the federal budget in fiscal 2009.
Deficit-conscious lawmakers have proposed several ways to force Congress to address the looming fiscal problems, such as establishing a commission to recommend ways to bring the budget back into balance. We'd rather see Congress follow the recommendation of the nonpartisan Peterson-Pew Commission on Budget Reform and pledge to stabilize the federal debt at no more than 60% of GDP by 2018. Congress has time to figure out how best to curb its deficit-spending habit. Repairing the country's credibility as a borrower, however, can't wait.
Read the full editorial What to Do About the Deficit on Los Angeles Times' Web site.