Debt ceiling hostage crises forever?

Senator McConnell gloats over the new template – debt ceiling hostage crises forever, every time there’s a GOP majority in the House or 40 senators for a filibuster, until every Republican dream is fulfilled. (via Ezra Klein):

This is just the first step. This, we anticipate, will take us into 2013. Whoever the new president is, is probably going to be asking us to raise the debt ceiling again. Then we will go through the process again and see what we can continue to achieve in connection with these debt ceiling requests of presidents to get our financial house in order.

So one plank of the 2012 Democratic platform writes itself: abolish the separate debt ceiling as an undemocratic and financially irrational monstrosity. Not raise it, abolish it. (By which I mean that as in normal countries, appropriations bills should automatically include authorisation for the borrowing they imply under the applicable revenue bill.)

But how to do this? I see two options:
(a) Accept the constitutionality of the current law and propose to abolish it by normal legislation.
The problem with this is that it needs not just the White House and a majority in the House, both realistic objectives, but 60 votes in the Senate, which is probably out of reach.

(b) Declare the debt ceiling law unconstitutional, not as a last-ditch technical fix but as a considered policy position of the party and its candidates (individual pledges signed in blood, please).

For instance, presidential candidate Obama could state his intention to attach a signing statement to every future appropriations bill not including such an explicit borrowing authorisation that it will be interpreted by the Executive as implicitly authorising any borrowing required for its execution. The justification will be the doctrine of the priority of more recent law, the Presidential oath, and the 14th Amendment.

Any better suggestions?

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Author: James Wimberley

James Wimberley (b. 1946, an Englishman raised in the Channel Islands. three adult children) is a former career international bureaucrat with the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His main achievements there were the Lisbon Convention on recognition of qualifications and the Kosovo law on school education. He retired in 2006 to a little white house in Andalucia, His first wife Patricia Morris died in 2009 after a long illness. He remarried in 2011. to the former Brazilian TV actress Lu Mendonça. The cat overlords are now three. I suppose I've been invited to join real scholars on the list because my skills, acquired in a decade of technical assistance work in eastern Europe, include being able to ask faux-naïf questions like the exotic Persians and Chinese of eighteenth-century philosophical fiction. So I'm quite comfortable in the role of country-cousin blogger with a European perspective. The other specialised skill I learnt was making toasts with a moral in the course of drunken Caucasian banquets. I'm open to expenses-paid offers to retell Noah the great Armenian and Columbus, the orange, and university reform in Georgia. James Wimberley's occasional publications on the web

15 thoughts on “Debt ceiling hostage crises forever?”

  1. Jonathan gives the answer two posts below: elect a Republican. Or, I suppose, a Democrat who isn’t in the tank for them. Like… um… Howard Dean?

  2. You guys are such wimps. Don’t you understand what a grind next year’s campaign is going to be? If Obama has to count on the likes of you to get re-elected, we’re all in trouble.

  3. Graeagle: I suppose the Republicans who supported Goldwater and Reagan were wimps compared to those who supported Rockefeller and Ford.

  4. “Debt ceiling hostage crisis forever” until those elected to cut growth of government learn that they’re supposed to betray their constituents, and resume reflexively rolling over to Democratic demands that spending not be cut?

    No crisis without both sides getting stubborn, after all.

    Here’s my proposal: Forget cuts: Just freeze spending in absolute dollars until the budget balances. What’s to object? A freeze has to be less onerous than cuts, right?

    Seriously, I don’t know why you’re whining now, you won. The ‘cuts’ are virtually all out-year, no reason to suppose they’ll happen, and they’re relative to the annually inflated baseline, which is to say they’re cuts from an arbitrary increase, not from present spending. The Tea party got played, and they KNOW IT. Republicans have to go into the next election with their base enraged.

  5. calling all toasters, we don’t need a Democrat. We need a majority of Democrats in both houses. The fundamental problem is that we have crazies in power, and the president can’t simply overpower them through shear force of will. To solve the problem, the crazies have to be booted out of office.

    IMHO, the Democrats need to push out the message that the Republicans are nuts and imperil this country’s future. Maybe something like the Daisy ad against Goldwater?

  6. You guys don’t get it.

    The debt ceiling is popular. The standoff was popular. Sure, not with the Establishment, or with elites, but the people love it.

    Take a look at the polls: 65% of people are happy with the spending cuts, and of those who are unhappy, less than half are unhappy because they think the cuts were too large.

  7. J.J.: “The fundamental problem is that we have crazies in power, and the president can’t simply overpower them through shear force of will.” Apparently Clinton did. Of course in 1995 the very reasonable and tradition-minded Newt Gingrich was running the House and the Republicans had a majority in the Senate, so it was really easy for him.
    http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/93043/obama-clinton-debt-ceiling-crisis

    Oh, and Peter DeFazio reports that Obama told the Democratic House Caucus that he retained the option of a 14th amendment solution. So apparently Obama believes that he could have resolved the crisis through sheer force of will. He just happened to want a conservative deal.

  8. From the article cited by calling all toasters: “THE MOST CRUCIAL difference between Clinton’s debt limit battle and the current crisis is that, in 1996, the Republicans were bluffing. No Republican seriously considered defaulting on the debt to be a viable option.”

    Also, Peter DeFazio’s remarks stated the 14th amendment would be invoked if “all had failed.” Considering that the 14th amendment option is legally questionable, it makes sense to leave that as a last resort, rather than treat it as a trump card.

  9. @david–simply because most americans haven’t had a course in macroeconomics or haven’t done any reading on macroeconomic theory and practice doesn’t mean that congressional staffers need to say that up is down. we elect people to make good decisions regardless of their popularity, or at least we should.

  10. The debt ceiling is as unconstitutional as the Federal Reserve. In fact, The debt ceiling was a reaction to Woodrow Wilson’s World War 1 debt spending which was enabled by his passing of the Federal Reserve Act that the Money trust loved so much. War begets debt and the money trust loves them both. Americans were dragged into that war by munitions makers and bankers. Do a little homework on the Nye committee that was stymied by the money trust.

  11. If the debt ceiling is unconstitutional, then I suppose we should abandon the practice of pre-approving huge blocks of borrowing, and go back to having Congress individually authorize every separate instance of borrowing, the way they did before “debt ceilings” were invented. Sounds good to me; At the pace we’re borrowing now, they’d have no time to get anything else accomplished.

  12. Here’s a suggestion: get rid of the filibuster. Boom, problem solved. With a simple majority vote the Senate will either raise the debt ceiling or abolish it. All you need to do is gain control of the House.

  13. The problem with getting rid of the filibuster altogether is that there would no longer be a way for the minority party to hold back the excesses of the majority. Remember that there was a time that Democrats were a minority in the Senate, and without the filibuster, the Republicans could have done far more damage. The filibuster shouldn’t be as easy as it is now, but doing away with it entirely would be dangerous.

  14. JJ, that’s why Benny wants to get rid of it, in case you hadn’t noticed. He just figures that the Republicans will remain the minority in the Senate, so it’s only Democratic excesses that will be enabled…

  15. What would Republicans do? Privatize Social Security? Big deal. As long as they don’t grandfather the 55 and older crowd I am ok with majority rule in both houses. Though it would be better if the Senate were more democratic and actually represented America rather than an antiquated notion of sovereign states.

    Also mods, please note that Mr. Bellmore has broken the rules of this blog in the above post and should be banned. Thank you.

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