1.17.2013

Writing Mr. Portman

This morning I was perusing the internet when I found an article from MaddowBlog that described Ohio Senator Robert Portman giving an inaccurate description of the nature of the debt ceiling. As a constituent of his, I was more than a little annoyed by this. So I wrote to his office:

I am writing to say that I do not appreciate it when my state's senator lies to his constituents and to the American people. The US economy, operating on a fiat currency, is not the same as my checkbook. The debt ceiling is nothing like my MasterCard.
It is irresponsible for Senator Portman to claim such, and in doing so he is either dangerously ignorant of the facts, or willfully lying to me and my fellow Americans.

As the former director of the Office of Management and Budget, I feel it is unlikely that Mr. Portman doesn't understand the true nature of the debt ceiling--that is, that it covers spending ALREADY APPROPRIATED by Congress, and is not itself an authorization for additional spending.

If the Senator wants to claim that the constant, thoughtless raising of the debt ceiling "sets a precedent" that makes future spending likely, that is his prerogative and he may in fact be accurate in making such claims. If he wants to make those claims, though, then he must make THOSE CLAIMS and not lie to the American people about the nature of the current situation simply to promote his agenda. Especially not when nearly every economist on both sides of the aisle has confirmed that no less than the "Full faith and credit" of the United States of America is at stake.

Though I feel the Senator should apologize for these dangerous claims, I know more about politics than to expect as much. Instead I will settle for Mr. Portman simply not making them again.

As the former director of the Office of Management and Budget, I feel it is unlikely that Mr. Portman doesn't understand the true nature of the debt ceiling--that is, that it covers spending ALREADY APPROPRIATED by Congress, and is not itself an authorization for additional spending.
If the Senator wants to claim that the constant, thoughtless raising of the debt ceiling "sets a precedent" that makes future spending likely, that is his prerogative and he may in fact be accurate in making such claims. If he wants to make those claims, though, then he must make THOSE CLAIMS and not lie to the American people about the nature of the current situation simply to promote his agenda. Especially not when nearly every economist on both sides of the aisle has confirmed that no less than the "Full faith and credit" of the United States of America is at stake.
Though I feel the Senator should apologize for these dangerous claims, I know more about politics than to expect as much. Instead I will settle for Mr. Portman simply not making them again.
A little later in the day, I received a (surely boilerplate) response from Portman's office. I was more than a little annoyed to find that it perpetuated the same lie I was writing to have addressed. Here it is (emphasis mine):


Dear Adam,

Thank you for contacting me to express your views on federal spending and the debt ceiling. It is good to hear from you.

As a member of the Senate Budget Committee, I am particularly concerned by the enormous growth in the deficit and debt.  These are the most serious problems facing this and future generations.  This historic level of debt creates an environment of uncertainty in the economy that hurts investment and risk taking.  The out of control federal spending must be stopped so this enormous burden is not passed on.  If we continue to live beyond our means today, we will mortgage the future of our children and grandchildren- lowering their standard of living.

America's staggering debt and deficit are directly linked to our ability to move the economy and create jobs. Without a serious commitment on our short and long term spending, we cannot create a pro-growth environment that's necessary for a strong economy.  And without stronger economic growth, we cannot hope to emerge from the dangerous overlay of debt.  We must both restrain spending and grow the economy to regain footing.

In light of our deep fiscal problems and the current economic challenges facing all Americans, I believe every area of government must be examined for savings.  As American families have tightened their belts over the past couple of years and businesses have had to do more with less, the federal government has taken the opposite path, spending more, growing bigger, and becoming more involved in our economy and our lives.  This year's $16 trillion debt and estimated $1.1 trillion deficit are at record levels. Getting our deficit and debt under control is the single most important step we can take to get our economy going and create the jobs we need so badly.

Raising the debt ceiling in order to continue on the path of unsustainable spending would be irresponsible.  Any debt limit increase must be accompanied by credible and meaningful deficit reduction.  Our current fiscal path is likely to plunge the United States in a debt crisis that will erode our children's futures and for the first time in our history, leave the next generation of Americans worse off than this one. 

Once again, thank you for taking the time to write.  I am honored to represent you and the great state of Ohio in the United States Senate.  For more information, please visit my website at www.portman.senate.gov, where you may also sign up for my newsletter.  Please keep in touch.

Sincerely,
Rob Portman
U.S. Senator

To say I was unimpressed with this response is an understatement. As I began to type out my reply, however, I noticed that this email had come from a "no_reply" email address. So I called Senator Portman's Cleveland office at (216) 522-7095. I spoke to Lucy, a staffer who (after an awkward moment putting me on hold abruptly) politely listened to my concerns. She suggested I write again, and say that I wanted a supervisor to respond to my email "correctly." If I still don't get the response I deserve, I'm to call her back directly.

Here's my second email:



Hello,
My name is Adam Heffelfinger. I wrote to the office earlier today to try to obtain an explanation as to why Senator Portman is perpetuating the untrue description of the debt ceiling as an authorization for additional spending. After receiving a boilerplate response from your office that CONTAINED THE SAME LIE I WAS WRITING TO HAVE CORRECTED, I called your Cleveland office where Lucy directed me to write again and ask that my email be given to a superior, so that it may be addressed properly.

Again, the Senator is claiming that raising the debt ceiling gives the President license for additional spending. It does not.

The debt ceiling allows for borrowing to cover spending already ordered by Congress. This is a relatively simple and uncontroversial fact.

Yet, Senator Portman's boilerplate response to me included the following:

"Raising the debt ceiling in order to continue on the path of unsustainable spending would be irresponsible. Any debt limit increase must be accompanied by credible and meaningful deficit reduction. Our current fiscal path is likely to plunge the United States in a debt crisis that will erode our children's futures and for the first time in our history, leave the next generation of Americans worse off than this one."

The implication here is that, somehow, NOT raising the debt ceiling would be less catastrophic than raising the debt ceiling. Raising it would allow the government to continue to operate as usual, not doing so would harm the "full faith and credit" of the United States, negatively impact the perceived worthiness of US Treasury Bonds in world markets, and might lead to the government not making payments to things ranging from the FBI and FDA to social security recipients and, yes, debt service.

I would like an explanation as to why someone as knowledgeable about matters of budget as Senator Portman would perpetuate this false description of the situation. I find it difficult to believe that he is ignorant of the truth of the matter, and find his continued participation in a skewing of the reality of things to be a dishonest political shortcut at best, a craven lie with dire consequences at worst.

Thank you.

I'll update this post if I get any further responses.

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