In an interview at his district office in on Automobile Alley in Oklahoma City, U.S. Rep. James Lankford summarized reasons he voted in favor of the federal debt ceiling legislation.
The Oklahoma City Republican was part of a unified House delegation – four Republicans and one Democrat – who backed the legislation. However, he parted company with the Sooner State’s two U.S. Senators, James Inhofe of Tulsa and Tom Coburn of Muskogee, who voted no.
On Wednesday of this past week, Lankford told CapitolBeatOK, “I don’t think anyone liked this deal, but we had several dynamics that had to be addressed on it. One is, we’ve got to find our way in order to move the nation forward on paying down debt, long term. It doesn’t cut very much spending, in the near term, it puts all the pain off. But we still have to have a plan to start taking that on.
“We had a small cut initially, which the Democrats in the Senate fought like crazy – to have the smallest amount possible – at the beginning of it. We wanted statutory caps, which is a way to be able to limit discretionary spending. We got that into the next 10 years. It limits the growth of government and all of our discretionary spending, to lessen the rate of inflation.
“That’s a big deal, to be able to get that kind of cap, to finally slow down our rate of spending, after increasing [it] 25 percent over the last two years – to get that mountain capped off, is a big deal.
“It forces us to have a serious national conversation on the balanced budget amendment. It gives us three months to talk about it, this summer [and] it brings us to a vote on it, some time this fall. I think that is achievable, to put some kind of a boundary around Congress.”
Conservatives, like most Americans, appear divided over the legislation. Some of the conservative critics have pointed to the potential for sequestration (automatic budget cuts) to explain their opposition, fearing military spending cuts could ensue.
Lankford contends sequestration is unlikely. He explained, “It’s not going to be an issue for us because that is so dramatic. …. No one wants that. The President doesn’t want it. The House and Senate do not want it. This is the same sequestration, the same across-the-board cuts we had back in the 1990s, during the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings time. That boundary that was put in those spending caps, this is the exact same formula. It never occurred, never happened during that time, as well. …
[The new law] doesn’t increase the debt [ceiling] past what we have to do to get past the election. That guarantees we’d be dealing with the debt ceiling right before the 2012 election. It’s the last thing the president wants to be talking about during that time period, … so he’s going to make sure that’s not going to happen.”
Lankford was asked if the debate in Washington is now primarily focused on spending cuts, rather than possible tax increases of “revenue enhancements.” The freshman legislator responded, “I do think that’s right. Two years ago, or a year ago, all the discussion was about a stimulus program, or another spending program, increasing spending again in every program. Now, all that talk is gone. The talk now is how little do we spend, about how do we get control, how do we get the tiger back in the cage. That has shifted dramatically in what we’re talking about.
“Even during this whole process, the president wanted two things. He wanted, first, a ‘clean’ debt ceiling, with no bargaining at all, like previous debt ceiling [votes]. We didn’t give him that, we said no way, we’ve got to get this issue on the table. And, the second thing he wanted was tax increases to cover it.
“He said the tax increases … wouldn’t start until 2013. But, in reality, the Affordable Health Care Act, the taxes for that also [would] start in 2013. So, we’d have a trillion dollars of additional taxes that start in 2013 already for the health care bill. He wanted to put another trillion dollars on top of that – as well starting in 2013. …
“We said that is a non-starter, we think it’s a bad thing for the economy.”