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U.S. hits debt ceiling, will women be sacrificed to raise it?

Today the U.S. hit the debt ceiling – this means the U.S. no longer has the authority to borrow additional money from the public to pay its bills. Treasury Secretary Geithner will try to forestall the U.S. defaulting on its obligations in a number of ways, including halting programs that help state and local governments manage their financial obligations and borrowing from federal employees’ pension funds. He is expected to run out of options by August 2.

No policies caused more growth in debt over the last ten years than the Bush tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003. The figure below from Pew’s new report The Great Debt Shift shows that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are responsible for 13 percent of the growth in debt over the last ten years (comparing the Congressional Budget Office's 2001 projections for debt levels in September 2011 to March 2011 projections for September). ("Technical and economic (revenue)" refers to the drop in revenues due to the recession). This means that more than one in every eight dollars in debt growth over the last ten years was due to the Bush tax cuts.

Share of the Change in Debt Projections between 2001 and 2011

Not raising the debt ceiling is unprecedented and would have terrible consequences for our fragile economy. Unfortunately, some members of Congress are demanding that outrageous spending cuts accompany raising the debt ceiling. House Speaker Boehner (R-OH) has stated that any increase in the debt ceiling must be accompanied by spending cuts of the same amount or more and Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has demanded that any debt ceiling increase include a two-year spending cap as well as cuts in mandatory and discretionary spending.

Yet the Republican leadership not only continues to insist that revenue increases are off the table when it comes to increasing the debt ceiling, but the House GOP just approved a budget that includes additional tax cuts for the highest-income Americans and corporations, further enriching the wealthy and powerful.

Not raising the debt ceiling, or demanding dangerous cuts to do so, would damage women's already-perilous economic security. As NWLC reported earlier this month, job growth since the end of the recession has been anemic – as of April 2011 women had a higher unemployment rate than they did at the beginning of the recovery in July 2009. And projected public sector cuts make it likely that women’s unemployment won’t be decreasing any time soon.

Rather than proposing harmful cuts and playing chicken with economic disaster, Congress must focus a balanced approach to debt reduction that includes responsibly raising revenue, creating jobs and protecting programs that provide the foundation of economic security for women and their families.