Don’t Worry, Be Happy About the Debt Ceiling

A couple of friends asked me whether the debt ceiling deal signalled a new Age of Extortion, in which we go through this mess every time we have to raise the debt ceiling. 

Not to worry, I said.

In 2013, given President Obama’s steadfast refusal to do anything about jobs and economic growth, there will likely be a Republican President.  If the Democratic Senate minority breathes a word of doing the same thing, President Bachmann or Perry or Romney or whoever will simply announce that the 14th Amendment gives the President the right to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally.  The President will then release the OLC Opinion written by David Addington.

End of story.  The GOP understands power, unlike some other Presidents I could name….

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

20 thoughts on “Don’t Worry, Be Happy About the Debt Ceiling”

  1. They also understand winning elections and party loyalty, unlike some bloggers I could name.

  2. > Mark Kleiman says:
    > August 2, 2011 at 6:08 pm
    >
    > They also understand winning elections and party
    > loyalty, unlike some bloggers I could name.

    Mr. Kleiman,
    We are all eagerly awaiting your wrap-up analysis of the debt ceiling debate and bill, particularly with comparisons to your analysis before the final days of negotiation and the final written bill. Please don’t keep us waiting much longer!

    Cranky

  3. Mark, I never realized we were getting money from the Obama campaign! It never occurred to me that we were supposed to not say bad things about the good guys. Is a left-wing Roger Ailes buying out RBC?

  4. That’s as good as you can do, Professor Kleiman? I asked for more and expected more…really. 2012 will be an interesting experiment: Can the victor piss all over the people who elected him, for four long yeas with one or two respites, and then have them vote as before just because the alternative is worse? Will his beloved “Moderates” (i.e., drive-by folks who don’t pay enough attention to take sides) save his ass? Could be. But it is an experiment I never expected. But then, I was blinded by despair at the Bush Ascendancy and what it meant for my country and my people, all of it and all of them. I won’t be making that mistake again.

  5. The age old-question must be asked again: is Obama really a conservative or is he just oblivious and incompetent? And which is a better qualification for being the Democratic nominee?

  6. They also understand winning elections and party loyalty, unlike some bloggers I could name.

    Of course, these days loyalty seems to be more of a two-way street in the Republican Party than it is in the Democratic Party.

  7. Re both the post and Mark’s rejoinder I think it’s worth pointing out that there’s a difference between circular firing squads and helpful (or at least illuminating) criticism.

    But I’m curious, Jonathan, who you voted for in the primaries. I voted for HIllary. Mark thinks she (and her husband) are (or were) pretty terrible people. I voted for her because I assumed the Republicans would do what they’ve been doing and I preferred someone who’d been through the wringer and knew how to handle it or at least plan for it.

    But Obama’s a smart guy and I think (or at least hope) that he’s continuing to learn from these experiences.

    Next step: Getting Mark to admit that Israel is worth at least as much loyalty as the Democratic party!

  8. So Obama should heed the sort of legal advice Dick Cheney’s lawyers offer about the limits of executive power? As for myself, I don’t like presidents unconstitutionally usurping the power of the other branches of government any better when the president is a Democrat.

  9. Greg: you might want to note that Obama has been perfectly OK with “the sort of legal advice Dick Cheney’s lawyers offer about the limits of executive power” when it comes to wiretapping citizens, assassinating believed terrorists, etc. He’s just *not* OK with it when it might derail his big pro-Republican bargain.

  10. Actually Jonathan, I favor this piece of snark from a Kevin Drum thread as the more likely Peak Crazy schtick:

    Washington, 2013.
    Speaker Pelosi: If you don’t sign single payer, we won’t increase the debt ceiling!
    President Bachmann: If you don’t repeal Obamacare, I’ll veto the debt ceiling increase!
    Speaker Pelosi: Wait…what?”

    @larry birnbaum…

    You can have “hope” he has learned. But honestly, he has already hinted he will cave on the Bush Tax cuts. The steed has already flown the barn. And all that might not matter anyway if this proves true:

    Because yesterday’s deal is an assault on the economy. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that it will cost the economy 1.8 million jobs and increase the unemployment rate by 0.6% in 2012 alone, while ending unemployment benefits that are currently being received by 3.8 million people. That’s going to hurt… a lot. Unemployed people spend most of the money they receive, which means it stimulates the economy. That’s also true of lower-income people, who will be hurt by this deal, and of the elderly, who are likely to be hurt in the next round.

    It’s like rooting for Cubs…
    But not we’ll get them next year.
    Rather: Cuomo in 2016.

  11. “….while ending unemployment benefits that are currently being received by 3.8 million people.”

    On this very planet, not too long ago, you heard this: “But, but, but….we HAD to extend the Bush Tax cuts so we could get unemployment insurance payments extended. Otherwise, think of the suffering!!!IT WAS WORTH IT!!! WE HAD NO CHOICE!!!”.

    Message to Obama lickspittle: Kiss mine.

  12. I’m with Cranky Observer. I respect your opinion deeply Mr. Kleiman and am extremely interested in your analysis of the debt “deal”. Please let me know if the result aligns with what you had expected. As I mentioned in a previous thread, Obama made this “deal” solely looking at Nov, 2012. I’m just not so sure I want to be loyal to my party leader if he’s willing to sell my party’s objectives down the river for another four years in office. Eventually, at least once, you have to take a stand, right? I’m OK with him blaming the Republicans for everything, which he’ll do from now until next election, but I’m kinda itchin’ for him to enact some progressive economic policies sometime soon. Too much to ask?

  13. Mr. Zasloff–Are you kidding me? Do you really believe that Obama has “refused” to do anything about jobs or economic growth? Are you aware of the fact that the right wing extremists of the REpublican Party control the House and have a fillibuster-capable minority in the Senate? Are you aware of the fact that the avowed goal of the REpublicans in Congress is to obstruct any and all initiatives of this Administration? That they oppose any action that has any chance of causing real job creation or economic growth? Where have you been for the last 2 1/2 years? What exactly do you think Obama could have done that has not been done?

  14. I agree with Cranky Observer that it’s incumbent upon Kleiman to address the debt ceiling, particularly in light of his post that Obama had an ace in the hole a week or so ago. After the final cave-in, what say you, Mr. Kleiman?

  15. DRF–

    Certainly everyone here appreciates the difficulty of getting anything through Congress with an openly hostile Republican caucus. And Obama has done some things right. The rescue of GM and Chrysler was brilliant, the economic equivalent of capturing bin Laden. I think most of his critics agree that he has had two gigantic failures, however.

    1) His initial stimulus was woefully short of what was needed. And it’s not that a larger amount wouldn’t have been approved– he got exactly what he asked for. He could’ve asked for $1.5 trillion, let Susan Collins cut $100 million from it so she could have looked responsible, and it almost certainly would have passed. Not only that, his drive to please Republicans made him include too much in tax cuts, which are not as stimulative as spending. And it has garnered him exactly zero acclaim from people who favor tax cuts, anyway. In the end, with state cutbacks due to the recession, we have had a net loss of government jobs while Obama has been president.
    2) The HAMP program is a disaster and a joke. Foreclosures are still hovering around historical highs, as they have for the two years this “rescue” has been in place. It was supposed to help 3-4 million homeowners,but only about 600,000 actually entered the program. A more cynical person than myself might think that since the money mostly came from Wall Street, the administration was very careful to not spend it.

    Finally, he has refused to even speak out significantly about the jobs situation. If you try to set the terms of the debate, he might have succeeded. Instead he decided after the 2010 elections that the Tea Party must be placated, and so we will have nothing but austerity, austerity, and austerity.

  16. “Because yesterday’s deal is an assault on the economy. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that it will cost the economy 1.8 million jobs and increase the unemployment rate by 0.6% in 2012 alone, while ending unemployment benefits that are currently being received by 3.8 million people. That’s going to hurt… a lot. Unemployed people spend most of the money they receive, which means it stimulates the economy. That’s also true of lower-income people, who will be hurt by this deal, and of the elderly, who are likely to be hurt in the next round.”

    This would, I assume, be according to the very same economic models which predicted,

    1) That, even if there had been no stimulus, the nadir of the recession would have been considerably shallower than we’ve experienced, and by now we’d have been in a recovery anyway.

    and,

    2) That, even with the smaller stimulus than you guys wanted, there should have been a considerably more robust, and sooner, recovery than without the stimulus.

    At some point you guys have got to recognize that your economic models are totally wacked. They’re simply not generating accurate predictions. They’re falsified.

  17. They’d do it, but not on the basis of the 14th amendment. It’ll be on inherent powers of the president. Which is what Obama should have done.

    Brad Delong thinks Obama is really a supply-sider at heart. To put that another way, in Krugman’s terms he’s all fresh-water and no salt-water. To the extent that he understands the economy at all. I think I’m ready to agree with them.

    And I’ve never understood the idea that you set up deals with the ones who want to ruin you, but never talk to your own people until the deal’s done. If I was in Pelosi’s and Reid’s position I’d be in a constant state of needing to flay the whole White House.

    @larry birnbaum: I was against Hillary for the very same reason– they’d just crank up the same crap they’d been working on since 1993 and keep grinding it out of the noise machine without missing a beat. They already had that script ready to roll out the day after the election. We needed to move away from 15-year-old arguments. During the primary and general campaigns it looked to me like Obama and/or his handlers understood media almost as well as republicans, and that if he got elected it would take the gop about six months to figure out what they’d be able to get away with saying. During that time a sharp, aggressive, media-savvy outfit would have a crack at embedding its own narrative and keeping the noise machine off-balance. Well, they had their six months of gop confusion and consternation but didn’t do anything with it. Either I was wrong about them, or whoever it was who really understood media didn’t get into the administration. So I was fooled, either way.

  18. Brett Bellmore wrote, “This would, I assume, be according to the very same economic models which predicted, 1) That, even if there had been no stimulus, the nadir of the recession would have been considerably shallower than we’ve experienced…”

    You assume incorrectly.

  19. Lets play this out in our heads:

    A. Obama decides the 14th is an option, keeps it to himself, and refuses to compromise as much. 2 things could happen:

    1. R’s fold b/c they aren’t unwilling to kill the hostage. This means they are not terrorists and the Ds description of them is wrong. They are just very good negotiators and their behavior has some precedence (’79). So many of the current critics of the Prez (like Krugman) can’t use this scenario to berate him.

    2. R’s don’t fold so O uses the new nuclear option. This is great for the R’s. They have legit pretense for impeachment hearings and you still don’t have a Budget. They are terrorists so they will refuse to compromise on the budget for the rest of O’s term. Nothing gets done and they blame the poor economy on O, since tradition dictates the Prez takes ultimate blame for the state of the Nation. R’s look strong in ’12.

    B. O telegraphs the 14th option. R’s definitely won’t fold even if they are not terrorists, since they know there is no chance that the hostage will die. Proceed back to 2A with non-terrorists joining in on the ensuing stalemate.

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