The Debt Ceiling Debate is Rubbish

The current theatre riveting Washington these days is the debt ceiling “negotiation” between Barack Obama and the opposite of progress (otherwise known as Congress).  But, as Felix Salmon (and others) point out, it may all be for nothing:

Realistically, then, the government is likely to breach the current debt ceiling no matter what Congress agrees. A failure to lift it would be a bit like an edict to a steaming supertanker that it had to stop dead: no matter how much force of law that edict has, sheer momentum is going force many basic operations of the public fisc to continue for some period of days or weeks.

At that point — and no earlier — there would be enormous pressure on the White House to pull out the 14th Amendment and declare the debt ceiling unconstitutional, if only for practical reasons: doing so would be a lot easier than trying to reprogram the computers which are set to send out $49 billion of Social Security checks on August 3. Not to mention that no president ever wants to be the person who stiffed America’s seniors on their guaranteed monthly income: a greater failure of leadership can hardly be imagined. On the other hand, saying “enough of you bickering legislators, I’m sworn to uphold the Constitution and do what’s in the best interest of the country” is much more presidential.

If an impasse is reached, Obama has two options: shut down the government the way Bill Clinton did in 1995 and embarrass the Republicans (which in part got him his second term), or just roll on and figure out how to justify it later.  The first option is dicey this go around because Congress is divided and the ability to dispense money (and thus patronage) is the key to the Democrats’ long term hegemony.

The “constitutional” argument that Salmon refers to is buttressed by the simple fact that Congress authorised the expenditures that got us to this point to start with.   Ignoring the debt ceiling would provoke a “constitutional crisis”, but when a political system is constantly forced to do what it wasn’t designed to do, such a crisis is inevitable, and we might as well have it now.  If I were in Obama’s position with his idea, I would ignore the debt ceiling, knowing my opponents don’t have much recourse, in the short term at least.

Barack Obama is, in some ways, in same position as Charles I of England was in 1629: from his view, he would be better off if he could send Congress home for the duration.  Eventually he would get his tax increase, eventually Obamacare would kick in, he could use administrative means to get the rest of his agenda, and he could lean on the Supremes to force same sex civil marriage on the rest of the states.  (May not take much leaning, really…)  Our constitution prohibits such a move (the formal term is to prorogue Congress) with Charles’ experience in view: not only was representative government short circuited, but the end result was ugly, both for Charles I (he was beheaded) and England (which got Oliver Cromwell).

We are headed to a major “constitutional” crisis.  Coming to an agreement on this only puts it off, but come it will.

HT to the American Thinker.

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