Hatch Scorches Lew: 'Not True, 'Simply False’ 'Four Pinocchios'

Terence P. Jeffrey | October 10, 2013 | 12:14pm EDT
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Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - Sen. Orrin Hatch (R.-Utah), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, delivered a blistering statement directly to the face of Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew in a committee hearing this morning addressing the legal limit on the federal government’s debt.

Hatch told Lew that statements and arguments Lew has been making in defense of the administration’s position that it will not negotiate with Congress over the terms of increasing the debt limit were “not true” and “simply false.”

Hatch also noted that President Barack Obama had earned “four pinocchios” for a debt-limit-related claim and that Lew was involved in “an apparent effort to whip up uncertainty in the markets.”

A law negotiated between Obama and Congress in August 2011 allowed the government to borrow up to $16,394,000,000. Another law, enacted on Feb. 4 of this year, suspended the debt limit until May 18.

At that point the law set the legal limit at $16,699,421,095,673.60. Every business day since May 17, the Treasury has claimed that the debt-subject-to-limit has remained at exactly 16,699,396,000,000—or approximately $25 million below the limit.

The Treasury has said that Lew has been able to keep the debt subject to the limit at this static number by using “extraordinary measures.” But Lew has informed Congress he believes these measures will be exhausted and the debt limit will be reached on about October 17.

In his opening statement this morning, Hatch attacked the truthfulness of arguments that Lew, President Obama and the administration have been making to back up their demand that Congress give the Treasury the legal authority to further increase the federal government's debt without agreeing to simultaneous cuts in federal spending.

“Secretary Lew, you have also publicly stated that only Congress has the power to lift the debt limit,” said Hatch. “Now, while it is ostensibly true that Congress has the power to raise the debt limit, there will be no increase if the president does not agree. At the same time, despite your public statements to the contrary, it is not true that raising the limit has only to do with spending Congress already approved. This line of argument is based on a premise that Congress makes spending decisions unilaterally, and that the Executive Branch plays no role in the process.

“That premise is simply false,” Hatch told Lew. “No amount of spending can be enacted without the president signing it into law.”

If Congress and the president were to agree to do so, a new debt-limit law could include language cutting or even abolishing federal programs that are contributing to the federal government's increasing debt. This Congress has no obligation to maintain programs or spending levels set by previous Congresses.

Hatch also noted that unilateral decisions Obama had made related to the implementation of Obamacare had caused changes in federal spending without congressional approval—thus rendering false Obama’s claim that Congress is solely responsible for the current spending track.

“In addition, this President has made unilateral decisions--with no input from Congress--that have had an impact on federal spending,” said Hatch. “For example, there was the decision to delay the Employer Mandate under Obamacare, which CBO tells us will add an additional $12 billion to our deficit.

“Congress never voted on the delay,” said Hatch. “It was a unilateral choice made through rulemaking at the Treasury Department.

“So, in short, the commonly repeated notion that questions surrounding spending and the debt limit are Congress’s and Congress’s alone to answer is, to put it mildly, a case of false advertising on the part of the Obama Administration,” said Hatch.

Hatch then said Obama had falsely claimed that non-budget items had never been attached to debt limit bills.

“There have been several other instances of false advertising from the administration concerning the debt limit,” said Hatch. “One is the President’s claim that non-budget items have never before been attached to the debt limit increase--a claim to which a fact checker at the Washington Post assigned the maximum four Pinocchios. In fact, of the 53 debt limit increases passed since 1978--under both Republican and Democratic Presidents--only 26 were ‘clean.’”

Hatch also accused Lew and others in the administration of trying to rile the markets.

“It is also disconcerting to have administration officials, including you, publicly questioning sentiments of Americans and financial market participants, and suggesting that people may be too calm in an apparent effort to whip up uncertainty in the markets,” said Hatch.

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