Time to Eliminate the Debt Ceiling

by Linda Beale

Time to Eliminate the Debt Ceiling

As the post-shutdown resumption of talking in Congress gets underway and the days start counting down to the next debt ceiling deadline (perhaps brought along sooner by the delay in the tax filing startup, as discussed in the last post), I suppose we must all at least hope that the Tea Party Republicans will be held in check by less reactionary members of their party. Or will they pursue their hostage-taking strategy yet again in connection with the debt ceiling, attempting to gain by economic terrorism what they could not win in the regular legislative process or the resumed budget negotiation talks?

There has been a series of commentaries in The New Yorker on the debt ceiling, all of which are worth reading. Well before the shutdown and crisis had reached quite the fever pitch of this fall’s end game, James Surowiecki wrote that it was time toSmash the Ceiling, The New Yorker (Aug. 1, 2011).   And in this year’s ridiculous hostage-taking effort by the Tea Party/GOP rightwingers, he pointed out succinctly that acceding to the right’s demands in connection with the shutdown “would in effect mean that controlling one house of Congres would be all you need to set policy” with “any law that hard-liners wanted to repeal (or pass) ….pegged to a debt-celining vote.”  James Surowiecki, After the Shutdown: The Debt Ceiling, The New Yorker, Daily Comment (Oct. 1, 2013). And he’s reminded us since that this whole debacle should be the “impetus for Congress to do away with the debt ceiling entirely, so that we don’t have to go through this nonsense again.” James Surowiecki, The Default Danger Next Time, The New Yorker (Oct. 16, 2013).

Many of those on the Tea Party right, however, appear to continue to nurture their iideological position that a breach of the debt ceiling would not be such a big deal and that it is a reasonable price to pay to get their way on things like Obamacare or tax cuts for big corporations or no capital gains tax increases.   Ted Cruz went home to praise by the Tea Party Texans–one of the most fanatically right-wing factions in the country.  Huelscamp appeared on PBS news last night mumbling the same old mumbo-jumbo about how high the debt is and how the Federal government must stop spending.

(ASIDE:  Judy Woodruff didn’t ask a number of obvious questions that might have cut through Huelscamp’s recitation of Tea Party talking points.  She could have started with some of the following:

  • If blowing through the debt ceiling isn’t a big deal, as you apparently think since you were pushing for a “no” vote on ending the GOP attempt to force its legislative will in return for not blowing it, then why do you make such an issue, as you just did in your statement here, about how big the US debt is?  or
  • How come you want to keep spending on military while cutting back on vulnerable seniors? or
  • Why do you use the word “entitlement” to talk about programs that people pay into to fund their earned benefits, but not to talk about the various provisions that the GOP has long supported that favor multinational enterprises and capitalists, like the preferential rate of taxation for capital gains or the percentage depletion allowance for Big Oil or the R&D credit for Big Pharma and other tax expenditures?  Etc.  )

If the right does try the same tactic again in connection with the “negotiation” on the budget (after they refused to appoint conferees for months) by using the next debt-ceiling limit as a hostage to their demands for more military spending and less spending on earned benefits, the President will need to continue to show the backbone he seemed to develop in this latest imbroglio.  He may have to face the Constitutional quandary:  given that Congress approved the spending and approved the tax rules that inevitably result in raising less revenues than needed to cover the spending, perhaps the Constitution requires that the government disregard the debt ceiling as a well-meant (originally, anyway) but ultimately toothless provision.  See, e.g., Eric Posner, Emergency Powers Let the President Borrow Beyond the Debt Limit, Room for Debate, NY Times.com (Oct. 3, 2013).

cross posted with ataxingmatter