Another House speaker, another stopgap bill. All the while our national debt explodes.

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I wonder if Rep. Matt Gaetz is still pleased with himself. Because after all the hullabaloo he caused, it turns out nothing has changed.

The stunt the Florida Republican pulled last month to oust former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy got him some time in the limelight, although that has faded, thank goodness. He’s still finding ways to be annoying, though.

For all the chaos and turmoil Gaetz and a small group of Republicans spawned, you’d assume there’d be huge differences in House leadership and the spending bills proposed.

Not so.

New House Speaker Mike Johnson proposed something nearly identical to what got McCarthy ousted in the first place. It’s a short-term measure to keep the government funded, stripped of additional cuts and other add-ons. On Tuesday, it passed the House with strong Democratic support, which Johnson, a Republican from Louisiana, needed, since 93 members of his own party voted against it.

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It’s probably about the best Johnson could do, given the divisions within the GOP and the fact he’s working with a Democratic-controlled Senate and White House.

His “laddered” approach would extend the funding deadlines to two different dates – one in January and one in February. It keeps funding at current levels (which should make Democrats happy) and averts the threat of a government shutdown ahead of the holidays. But those deadlines will come quickly after the first of the year.

Then what?

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., speaks to reporters as he leaves the U.S. Capitol after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was ousted from his position on Oct. 3, 2023.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., speaks to reporters as he leaves the U.S. Capitol after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was ousted from his position on Oct. 3, 2023.

Republicans – and Democrats – must wake up to reality

Many Republicans had demanded that additional spending cuts be tied to these annual spending bills.

I’m sympathetic to that and have written numerous times about the impending doom of our national debt if Congress refuses to do anything about it.

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Here’s the problem in the short term: McCarthy and President Joe Biden ironed out a deal earlier this year to raise the debt ceiling. The Fiscal Responsibility Act reduced spending for the next fiscal year and put in some caps – both of which were big wins, since Biden had sworn not to “negotiate.”

So Republicans should honor that deal, as should Democrats.

This doesn’t mean they should give up on the debt.

Democrats remain in denial that they’ll ever need to slow the spending spigot. And the GOP isn’t much better.

In recent discussions over sending aid to Israel, for example, some Republicans suggested tying that to cuts to the IRS – which budget experts say would increase the deficit even more because the agency is responsible for bringing in revenue. (I’m no fan of the IRS, but math is math.)

Our gross national debt surpassed $33 trillion in September, and it’s rising at an ever faster clip. In the last fiscal year, the deficit doubled to about $2 trillion.

We’re in trouble, despite what the president keeps touting about “Bidenomics.

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Leading financial institutions have noticed, too. On Friday, Moody's Moody's Investors Service downgraded its U.S. credit rating outlook to “negative” from “stable,” given the high deficits and the increased costs of managing the debt.

This follows an actual credit rating downgrade from Fitch Ratings earlier this year.

GOP needs to think big or go home

The bickering over the budget is far from a new phenomenon, and Congress has been dysfunctional for decades, says Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. Neither party wants to take responsibility for our unsustainable debt – or make the tough decisions necessary to make things better – so they keep piling on the bad decisions.

“The budget process is absolutely broken,” MacGuineas told me.

Rather than waste time with infighting, Republicans should make clear the dangers of the skyrocketing debt.

And there are concrete things they can do. Chief among them is that the president and Congress should back the formation of a bipartisan fiscal commission, which a growing number of lawmakers and policy experts have said would be the best hope of making a dent in our spending. The idea is that it would take extreme partisanship out of making necessary budget cuts and offer political cover for lawmakers to sign on.

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This month, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., introduced the Fiscal Stability Act, which would create the fiscal commission. (Neither Romney nor Manchin is seeking reelection, and they might be eyeing a third-party presidential run, but good for them for doing this.)

A similar bipartisan bill was introduced in the House in September.

Polls continually show voters trust the GOP on the economy at record rates (for now). And if Republicans are serious about reining in the debt, then what they should focus on is winning more seats in Congress – and winning back the White House.

To do that, however, they’ll have to show they can actually govern and act like adults.

Is that too much to ask?

Ingrid Jacques is a columnist at USA TODAY. Contact her at or on X, formerly Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden and Congress ignore the danger as national debt keeps rising