Fox News co-host Eric Bolling botched basic facts about the debate over a potential government default by claiming that increasing the debt ceiling would give President Obama the power to spend on whatever he chooses. In fact, raising the debt ceiling simply allows the government to pay for spending that Congress has already approved.
During a Fox & Friends segment on the debt ceiling, Bolling claimed Obama "looked in the camera and said, 'give me the checkbook.' " Bolling later suggested Congress would lose the power of the purse if it raised the debt ceiling:
But during his news conference on Monday, the president clearly stated that Congress has the spending power, and he is only asking for a debt ceiling increase to have the power to spend money that Congress already authorized:
This is a matter of Congress authorizes spending. They order me to spend. They tell me, you need to fund our Defense Department at such and such a level; you need to send out Social Security checks; you need to make sure that you are paying to care for our veterans. They lay all this out for me because they have the spending power. And so I am required by law to go ahead and pay these bills.
Separately, they also have to authorize the raising of the debt ceiling in order to make sure that those bills are paid. And so, what Congress can't do is tell me to spend X, and then say, but we're not going to give you the authority to go ahead and pay the bills.
And I just want to repeat -- because I think sometimes the American people, understandably, aren't following all the debates here in Washington -- raising the debt ceiling does not authorize us to spend more. All it does is say that America will pay its bills. And we are not a dead-beat nation. And the consequences of us not paying our bills, as I outlined in my opening statement, would be disastrous.
Experts have made the same point. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke stated during a forum on Monday that increasing the debt ceiling does not create new deficits, it doesn't create new spending. A May 2011 document from the Treasury Department titled "Debt Limit: Myth v. Fact" explained what the debt limit does:
The debt limit is the total amount of money that the United States government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing legal obligations, including Social Security and Medicare benefits, military salaries, interest on the national debt, tax refunds, and other payments. The debt limit does not authorize new spending commitments. It simply allows the government to finance existing legal obligations that Congresses and presidents of both parties have made in the past.
Furthermore, a July 2011 PolitiFact article asked several budget experts to evaluate Republican Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor's claim that increasing the debt ceiling would "give the president a blank check" and determined that the claim was false:
We ran Cantor's "blank check" analogy by four Washington policy analysts who are closely watching the debt ceiling debate. They were all perplexed by the statement and pointed out a simple reason why Reid's plan would not give Obama carte blanche: Under the U.S. Constitution, only Congress can appropriate money.
"Congress has to authorize new spending and changes in taxation," said Norman J. Ornstein, a political scientist with the conservative American Enterprise Institute. "The president can sign or veto those bills. He can't do anything without congressional authority."
Ornstein added, "Cantor is being totally, deliberately misleading."
Steve Ellis, vice-president of the non-partisan Taxpayers for Common Sense, had a similar take. "Rep. Cantor's comment isn't really correct," he said.
We were also given a second reason why Cantor's statement is inaccurate: Raising the debt limit will pay for past obligations made by the U.S. government, not new ones.
"The need to raise the debt limit is a factor of past spending and tax decision (in addition to the recent economic downturn) enacted by previous congresses and presidents pushing borrowing needs up," said Jason Peuquet, an analyst with the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a middle-of-the-road, budget-hawk group.