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Tackle debt in budgeting process

ALBANY HERALD EDITORIAL: Budget cap fights have a bigger cost than payoff

Old ways die hard.

The nation is once again reaching the point where the federal government needs its debt ceiling raised to continue doing business. House Republicans this week again were negotiating over concessions they want in return for the approving the additional debt.

The difference is this time the GOP lawmakers were whittling down their demands in negotiations within their own party as they looked for face-saving attachments to the bill that would authorize the government to borrow more money.

Thoughts of adding big item provisions calling for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline that would transport oil from Canada to Texas or for defunding parts of the Affordable Care Act were ditched by GOP leadership. That was a wise decision because both the Democratic-run Senate and White House have said there will be no “ransom” accepted in legislation funding the government’s operations.

Even if Republican representatives add some smaller “conditions” to the bill, the likelihood is the Senate will reject them all and ship back clean legislation, which could set up another of those “who blinks first” stalemates that have frequently paralyzed Congress over the past few years.

While we’re not fans of increasing the $17 trillion federal debt, the fact is Congress has passed a spending plan and representatives and senators knew full well — or should have known, if they’re doing their jobs — what was required to fund that budget. Lawmakers have written the checks. Now it is incumbent on them to do what they have to in order to ensure the checks clear the bank.

In 2011, a spending battle got $2.1 trillion in discretionary cuts over a 10-year period through the meat-cleaver approach of sequestration, which resulted in indiscriminate cuts. It also resulted in the United States losing its top-level credit rating and didn’t do much for our image at home or in other nations, as it was the first undeniable indicator that the United States could default on its debt.

Then the debt-limit fight last year turned into a fiasco with a partial government shutdown in October, one that was unpopular with the public and also an event that may have led to consumer worries and less spending for the October-December quarter that is crucial to retailers’ bottom lines.

The best avenue here is to live with what’s been done and move ahead. The spending levels for government through September 2015 have been set and approved. Do what is necessary to meet those obligations.

The U.S. debt has to be gotten under control, but mounting a battle over borrowing authority isn’t the right venue. Lawmakers have proven that. Spending — and the debt it causes — is determined during the budgeting process. That is when the checks are written, and that is when the numbers on those checks can and should be made smaller.

The Albany Herald Editorial Board