23 Senate Republicans Urge Obama to Address Deficit

Yesterday, a group of 23 Republican Senators sent a letter to President Obama stating that any further increases in the debt limit should be accompanied by action on reducing the deficit, citing the need to embrace entitlement reform to protect current and future generations. They stated that "without action to begin addressing the deficit, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for us to support a further increase in the debt limit." (See below for a full copy of the letter.)

Some media outlets have misreported that this group of Senators will not vote for a debt ceiling increase unless the President concedes to cuts to Social Security. However, the letter simply calls for bipartisan deficit reduction and correctly notes that entitlement reform will ultimately be necessary to control future deficits and debt. The letter calls for the President to "lead a bipartisan effort to address these challenges", citing the bipartisan efforts in 1983 between President Reagan and Speaker Tip O'Neill to safeguard Social Security.

The letter calls the Bowles-Simpson Fiscal Commission recommendations (which we should note included entitlement reform, discretionary caps, and fundamental tax reform) a good starting point in identifying a "path forward".

It is critical that increasing the debt ceiling be handled responsibly, as this letter does. CRFB strongly supports efforts to address the deficit in a bipartisan manner, whether attached to the debt ceiling increase or enacting through other means. We recently called on lawmakers to raise the debt limit, but to do so along with with measures to begin addressing our fiscal challenges. We argued that lawmakers must raise the debt ceiling, and any long-term increases of the debt ceiling should be accompanied by a fiscal plan or process to stabilize and reduce debt.

Here is the text of the letter sent to President Obama:

"Mr. President,

The fiscal challenges facing our country today call for courageous leadership. Government spending is growing at an alarming rate, and the federal budget deficit has reached record levels. Congress will soon face a vote to increase the debt ceiling yet again, the fourth time in your Presidency and the 11th time in the last decade. Future generations will drown in debt forced onto them by the inactions of Congresses and Administrations far before their time. The time to remedy these failures is now.

While Congress is currently engaged in an important discussion on annual discretionary spending levels, the more significant long-term problem facing our country is the continued growth of mandatory spending programs. Federal expenditures on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are expected to double over the coming decade and represent and unsustainable portion of total government spending.

In order to ensure the long-term viability of these programs, it is imperative that you lead a bipartisan effort to address these challenges. In 1983, President Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neill recognized the pressing need for reform, showed political courage and worked together to craft a plan that has safeguarded Social Security for the past thirty years. A similar show of leadership from you and from congressional leaders of both parties is necessary to address the long-term fiscal challenges facing our country.

Last year’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform marked an important first step in identifying a potential path forward. Strong leadership is needed now to advance possible solutions to ensure that our entitlement programs can serve both current and future generations. Without action to begin addressing the deficit, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for us to support a further increase in the debt ceiling. House Speaker John Boehner this month offered to partner with you in a nonpartisan effort. We join in the Speaker’s offer, and urge you to lead this Congress and the nation in the critical effort to strengthen our country’s long-term fiscal security."

Signing the letter were Senators Dan Coats (IN), Richard Lugar (IN), Lindsey Graham (SC), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Richard Burr (NC), Saxby Chambliss (GA), Tom Coburn (OK), Bob Corker (TN), John Cornyn (TX), Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX), Mike Crapo (ID), James Risch (ID), John Ensign (NV), Mike Enzi (WY), Mike Johanns (NE), Ron Johnson (WI), Mike Lee (UT), Rand Paul (KY), Rob Portman (OH), Marco Rubio (FL), Pat Roberts (KS), and Roger Wicker (MS).