Attack of the Giant Killer Debt Limit Tomatoes III

Here you go again with this nonsense.

Compared to the last round, there’s one big plus: Obama has said he won’t negotiate this time and has proposed scrapping the wretched thing:

I will not play that game, because we have got to break that habit before it starts.

He also won the election, which counts for something if you are not a Republican.

The negatives: Republicans have learnt nothing; and Obama’s spokesman has taken off the table the option to declare that “the debt limit is a violation of the 14th Amendment”. The platinum coin was never on it, and Jack Balkin, its inventor, an early populariser, doesn’t think it’s remotely realistic.

So partial government shutdown it it has to be. (The interest payments are sacred by the 14th Amendment. You may be able to protect food stamps and the pay of servicemen and women in combat, but not much else or it doesn’t add up.) Brad de Long is right: Obama should prepare the ground for negotiating by telling Republicans, in great detail, exactly what this would mean for their constituents.

Let me revive an idea I floated earlier: do it by zipcode. The constituents of Congressmen on board for fixing the limit get paid in full. Constituents of holdouts – from Medicare providers to defence contractors – get paid in IOUs, to the extent necessary to balance income and receipts week by week. If that isn’t enough, you pay the first group partly in IOUs; but they get the cash first. The accompanying letter, signed by Obama and Geithner, explains why. The constituents really, really won’t like that.

The first stage of torture by the Inquisition consisted in “showing the instruments” to the suspect. It was often enough.


  1. Ebenezer Scrooge says

    I think that James’ zipcode idea is basically correct, but his instruments of torture could use some refinement. It is, y’know, unfair to penalize individuals for their Congress-critter’s stand. So any individual who wants their government checks should get them.

    Of course, there must be an appropriate process for this. They would have to sign an appropriate document, which might have some quaint wording that just might be repugnant to Teabaggers. Of course, Congress-critters provide constituent services. It would not be unreasonable for the Administration to treat the forwarding of the document as such a constituent service. It would only be fair and balanced if Tea Partiers had the converse opportunity, to declare their rugged individualism. Somehow, I doubt that many would take it up.

    • priscianusjr says

      “It is, y’know, unfair to penalize individuals for their Congress-critter’s stand.”

      Not entirely. A majority of them voted for the critter, after all; and the responsibility for the penalization belongs a lot more to that critter than to the president, who certainly regrets the situation that leaves him no alternative and is not of his making.

      I think most constituents recognize this, and will let their disaffection be known; and this is the only thing that can get the critter to relent.

  2. OKDem says

    Hmmm… Wouldn’t this mean the much hated USPS would have to be declared a vital service? Your are mailing official papers.

  3. says

    Well maybe.

    But I need convincing that the republican constituents that elected these folks don’t hate our government so much, that any pain they feel will be joyfully balanced by pain they impose.
    Again literally: this is a cold civil war. And I suspect these constituents/opponents of ours will gleefully cut off their local noses to spite your federal face.
    Or to put it another way: Their hate trumps their risk aversion: “Hell yeah let’s drown the sucker!”

    No the only way to do this is to stand up like FDR and go constitutional.

    • Ebenezer Scrooge says

      Koreyel needs convincing that Teabaggers will cut off their fiscal noses to spite Obama’s face. Let me try. “Keep the Government out of my Medicare!” ‘Nuff said.

    • OKDem says

      29 percent of the electorate are raving lunatics [Louie Gohmert are one and proud of it] and the GOTP has 80-90% of them as its base. It is true those will not move.

      In political terms we are talking about moving 5-10 percentage points in the low information “center” in the 2014 elections from R to D leaning. Most people forget that in 2010 a move of 5% Democratic across the nation would have meant a solid Democratic gain; 2010 was a much closer election than assumed. If the Rethug hostage takers see that sort of polling movement, enough will sign Polosi’s motion to consider to bring the debt limit to the floor and pass it out of the House [it will only take about 20 next Congress]. If filibuster reform takes place [and McConnell keeps making the case that reform is vital to national survival], it will pass in the Senate.

      What can move the polls? Obama will have to do the sort of bully pulpit work suggested, on the air and in the mail. We are talking low information voters, they require repetition. Democrats will have to start calling Republicans hostage takers to their face and calling out the false equivalences of media sock puppets. It will be work and acrimony, which the center and left have avoided in the past but this time the stakes are too high.

    • Mitch Guthman says

      Better yet, why not start moving all military bases and government installations from red to blue states as well as starting to limit red enrollment in the military.

      • Rick B says

        Declare that membership in or professed voting for Republicans will prevent getting a security clearance just like the KKK or Communist Party? That would be the easiest way to identify the personnel you suggest targeting. Big job for the FBI but I’m sure they are up to it. Of course, there might be some problem finding enough federal security officers in the military or other agencies who don’t meet those same criteria to enforce it.

        And do the railroads have enough rolling stock to get all the tanks and other armor out of Fort Hood to the port in Houston and around through the Panama Canal to Yakima Firing Center in Washington? Also, wouldn’t US registered ships be required to do the deep water shipping? Similar issue, are the three or four US non oil tankers left enough for that?

        We could, of course, just give Fort Bliss to New Mexico where it sits and solve the transportation problems there.

        Mitch, somehow I don’t think that your feel-good proposal was carefully thought through.

  4. TimS says

    Since when did partisan petty maneuvers become an accepted part of the Democrats’ toolkit? “They did worse” is pitiful justification.

    • Byomtov says

      Not a question of “they did worse.”

      The federal government spends a lot of money, and it’s very safe to say that it’s impossible to establish a strict priority ranking in terms of national importance of every dollar, or even every million dollars. So given two chunks of spending of equal importance, one of which must be eliminated, why not eliminate the spending in an area whose elected representatives want spending reduced? Seems to make sense to me. Not only does it match up better with the professed desires of the voters of the area, it gives them an idea of the consequences.

      • TimS says

        If there are programs that disproportionally effect Republican strongholds, then it’s reasonable to cut them first. But the proposal as originally stated was to take a program of general applicability (Social Security) and mail checks only to recipients represented by Democrats in the House. I think that’s dirty pool.

        • priscianusjr says

          Really? I didn’t get that. That isn’t the way to do it. You cut the favorite pork barrel programs in the districts that demand less federal spending. Especially military and commodity subsidies.

          • TimS says

            I respectfully suggest you read the article Mr. Wimberley wrote back in April. It’s linked from this article, and it explicitly calls for NOT sending checks to certain House districts.

          • Rick B says

            Since no one still gets checks from Social Security can you be sure they stop the proper financial transfers to banks to implement that?

            When I worked for Social Security and SSI was taken over from the states we did not have enough workers to make changes in checks for almost six months. (The idiots in Congress mandated implementation within 11 months of passing the law.) The personnel of Social Security is relatively smaller today. And someone has to be ready to correct all the Treasury Department mistakes that they are sure to make in such a non-routine operation. Also, I’d bet that the phone companies couldn’t support the demands made on the phone system since the US now operates a system that is less capable than that of many third world nations.

    • spencer says

      Since someone woke up and realized that that’s how politics works in this country.

      Yeah, it’s ugly and petty. So what? That’s politics. Those are the parameters. The days of high-minded, non-partisan politics pretty much never existed in the US.

      Don’t like it? Stop following politics. Problem solved.

    • liberal says


      We’re in an iterated prisoner’s dilemma with the right-wing. They repeatedly defect. And we’re supposed to keep cooperating?

  5. Don says

    I’d love to see this fantasy come true, but if it did, I’d say “Who are you and what did you do with Barack Obama?” It would be completely out of character.

    If you need recent evidence that he hasn’t changed his personality, I point to his closed-door negotiations with Boehner over the so-called fiscal cliff. Any deal acceptable to Republicans would be worse than no deal at all, yet he still seeks a compromise deal.

    • Dennis says

      So, are you advocating stepping off the curb rather than trying to help Speaker Orange see the light? If the President wants to be seen as the adult in the room (and he does), then he has to be seen as behaving like an adult. That means negotiating with Speaker Orange.

      Not that I believe for a moment Obama has the courage to institute this sort of policy. He would say something about how we are all Americans together, and it would be unfair for the burden to spread unequally. Which I would respond to with something about our being in the fix because the voters in those districts (like mine, NM-2) elected the crazies who are holding the economy hostage. They need to get a message.

      • Don says

        I think if he can win without negotiating at all, and he chooses instead to accept less, then he looks something other than adult. Like a bipartisan, to put it nicely. Like a ninny, to be not so nice. He can be civil and entirely adult and realistic, and still say “No thank you, I think I’ll just take the end of the Bush tax cuts. Let’s talk again in January. Happy Holidays.”

        But we digress from the topic of the debt limit. And I agree with you, he won’t send the necessary message in that case, either.

    • OKDem says

      Can you say “Kabuki”? What about “optics” or “window dressing”? To negotiate and fail due to Republican demands to do something the majority hates is weakness ONLY if Obama does not then go to the people to build pressure on Congress until the networks scream about the airtime.

  6. Jim says

    Unfortunately, the administration can’t pick and choose which appropriated funds it spends. Nixon tried and the Supreme Court ruled that he couldn’t. The administration must spend every dollar the Congress appropriates. It only gets the one chance to veto and only the entire bill.

    • James Wimberley says

      Different situation, surely. Obama would have the defence, not available to Nixon, that he is required by the laws of arithmetic to violate one of two validly enacted laws: the appropriations bill or the debt ceiling. Three if you count the revenue bill, but not even I am advocating an illegal 20% surcharge on high incomes, oil and coal.

      • Rick B says

        It wouldn’t be an illegal surcharge if it were presented as a bill for government expenditures required to provide security for the assets of the great wealth holders, would it?

    • OKDem says

      The “expenditures” will be in IOUs, obligations but not bonds. So, yes the President can chose which get paid cash and which obligations. If that is insane it is because the bonding process from the founding assumed sanity and about half the Congress are currently insane, denoted by a (R) after their name.

      The options are reduced choosing the least unconstitutional.

  7. Barry says

    ” Brad de Long is right: Obama should prepare the ground for negotiating by telling Republicans, in great detail, exactly what this would mean for their constituents.”

    No, keep it secret. Let the GOP Congress sweat about surprises.

  8. Ken Rhodes says

    “I will not play that game, because we have got to break that habit before it starts.”

    Before it starts? Either I’m confused, or President O’Bama has developed amnesia.

    Didn’t that habit start last year?

    • priscianusjr says

      No, one instance of something does not constitute a habit. When it is repeated, with the expectation that it will be repeated any number of times more, you can call it a habit. Once it is a habit, you can say, in retrospect, that it started in 2011.