Don't call it a comeback, but Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., today re-introduced a bill to prioritize payments to government vendors in the event we get to Aug. 2 without raising the nation's debt limit. Instead of the fire and brimstone predicted by the president and others for failing to hike the $14.3 trillion borrowing limit, Toomey has long predicted only "disruption." The bill would give at least some certainty to Aug. 3 and beyond, mandating that Treasury pay off interest on the debt -- thus avoiding a default on our debt -- Social Security and pay for active duty military.
This is a major cause for Toomey, who penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed on this and made the Full Faith and Credit Act his first bill as a senator -- though it was voted down on party lines in March. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has made no secret of his dislike for forcing Treasury to prioritize certain obligations, and President Obama himself has said he can't guarantee Social Security payments.
Toomey, who introduced the bill at a news conference today alongside nearly 20 Republican lawmakers, wants to make the president admit he can pay Social Security -- and generally increase GOP leverage in the debt talks. Toomey did try to separate himself from what some establishment Republicans are calling the "default caucus" by sounding appropriately concerned but not alarmist.
"What this bill is all about is minimizing whatever disruption might otherwise occur if the debt limit is not raised prior to Aug. 2," he said. "I continue to hope that this legislation never needs to be implemented, but it would be very, very irresponsible to be unprepared, or worse, to be unwilling to minimize the potential for disruption."
Toomey got all Republicans on board and no Democrats the first time around, but this new proposal adds Social Security and the military to the mix instead of just debt service, changing the bill name to the only-in-Washington title: Ensuring the Full Faith and Credit of the United States and Protecting American's Soldiers and Seniors Act. It makes it tougher for Democrats to demagogue since "Pay China and Old People and The Military First" doesn't have the same ring to it as "Pay China First." And everyone is scared enough around here of what will happen on Aug. 3 that who knows what the whip count will look like if this thing gets to the floor again. So far, he has 31 Senate Republican co-sponsors.
Toomey relies on data from the Bipartisan Policy Center for his calculations showing the government would have plenty of dough left over after paying his three priorities. But the reality for August is stark in terms of what we could and could not afford without borrowing more: The BPC calculates that the government will take in $172.4 billion from Aug. 3-31 and is obligated to spend $306.7 billion. So what gets funded and what doesn't? You can play along at home with debt limit tools from Bloomberg, The Washington Post or PBS News Hour.
It's just like the Price Is Right home edition, except with a potential worldwide financial slump at stake if you lose at Plinko.