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Financial obligation

Although the calendar is closed on 2012, Congress left plenty of unfinished business to attend to as 2013 gets under way.

Right at the front of the list was the little matter known as the federal debt ceiling. This is the amount of money the U.S. Treasury can borrow to pay for government spending. It’s also the latest issue that some members of Congress are touting as a way to force a reduction of that spending.

In taking this approach, however, those advocating holding the line on the debt ceiling — in the neighborhood of $16.4 trillion — are ignoring a crucial aspect to consider: taking care of the nation’s financial obligations and sending a message to the world that we pay our debts.

These responsibilities include everything from Social Security or Medicare benefits to the salaries paid to those Americans serving in the armed forces to the refunds that many citizens will be expecting after filing their federal income tax returns. Should this Congress fail to come to an agreement on the debt ceiling by late February or early March, leaving the nation unable to pay its bills, President Barack Obama would then have the undesirable task of deciding what would get paid and what wouldn’t.

We’re sure there are some Republicans who see this scenario as a way to wound Obama in their perennial (and tiresome) blame game.

But we think more and more Americans would realize that the fault for any such failure would lie directly with Congress and its unwillingness to work with this president.

In fact, we think many Americans also realize the stance against raising the debt ceiling so that federal government doesn’t default on its bills fails to acknowledge the role Congress has in this whole matter.

Congress, after all, is the only branch of federal government with the ability to authorize spending, and those who rail at the president and what he proposes are attempting to spread a smokescreen over the fact that Congress cannot control its own impulse to throw money at each and every problem the nation encounters.

Holding the debt ceiling hostage is not the answer.

We’re not arguing that Congress shouldn’t be engaged in serious discussions about our out-of-control spending and what can be done to make sure that taxpayer money isn’t wasted.

But cutting off our financial nose to spite the president’s face is not the answer.

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