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Debt Ceiling: Memo to the White House and Congress — a new IBD/TIPP Poll says the vast majority of Americans want you to be fiscally responsible. The depth of feeling is so great, in fact, that your jobs may depend on it.

 As a debate heats up over whether to raise the federal debt ceiling to $14.3 trillion, Americans have already made up their minds: Don't even think about it.

In a survey of 915 adults taken from Jan. 30 to Feb. 5, the IBD/TIPP Poll shows an overwhelming 70% agree that "Congress should not increase the debt limit." That's a stunning number, when you think about it.

Just 25% say they would raise the debt limit. Even a majority of Democrats — 55% — say raising the limit is a bad idea (see chart below). Some 86% of Republicans and 74% of independents agree.

Why? By telling Washington not to lift the debt limit beyond $14 trillion, average Americans can force Congress and the White House to be fiscally responsible. That is, Congress will have no choice but to slash spending — including entitlements — if the debt ceiling isn't raised.

In a frightening letter to Congress in early January, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner warned that refusing to raise the debt limit would lead to a "first-ever failure" of the U.S. to pay its bills — in essence, the U.S. would be in default.

Actually, that's not true. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Rep. Tom McClintock of California have proposed making paying debts the first priority over all other government spending. If our debts are paid, there's no default.

What it would do is force Congress to address its runaway spending, a major cause of our economic ills. Cuts would have to be made not just in the part of this year's $3.8 trillion in spending that's "discretionary," but in entitlements — now 60% of spending — as well.

Today, the U.S. has about $14 trillion in total debt, about $300 billion short of the current ceiling. But we're expected to run a deficit of $1.5 trillion this year, so we'll be at the limit very soon.

Geithner — and others — have warned that financial markets would melt down if Congress doesn't raise the debt ceiling. That doesn't have to be the case. If Congress shows it's serious about actually cutting spending, it might have the opposite effect on markets — and the added benefit of not forcing our grandchildren to pay even more taxes for our reckless profligacy.

Listen to the people? What a concept. It may be that refusing to add to our debt is the only way to make our government fiscally responsible — despite the scare tactics now being used to keep us on the path of insolvency.


Q:  The U.S. has 14 trillion dollars of debt, close to the limit of 14.3 trillion set by the Congress. In your opinion, should the Congress increase the debt limit or not increase the debt limit?

Overall Dem. Rep. Ind.
Increase the debt limit 21% 35% 9% 18%
Not increase the debt limit 71% 57% 84% 76%
Not sure 7% 7% 6% 5%
Refused 0% 1% 0% 0%
Q:  Some say that raising the debt limit would allow the U.S. to pay debtors and prevent default and maintain its credit rating while others say that the country's indebtedness is too high and government spending must be cut dramatically first. Based on these considerations, should Congress increase the debt limit or not increase the debt limit?
Overall Dem. Rep. Ind.
Increase the debt limit 25% 38% 13% 23%
Not increase the debt limit 70% 55% 86% 74%
Not sure 4% 6% 1% 3%
Refused 0% 1% 0% 0%
Source:  TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, Sample Size=915, Margin of error=3.3 percentage points, Poll conducted Jan 30, 2011 to Feb 5, 2011
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