Skip to main content

Tiger yawns on rock
No matter how hard I try, I just can't get worked up about this:
President Barack Obama made a demand of House Speaker John Boehner near the end of their first White House meeting on the fiscal cliff: Raise the debt limit before year’s end.

Boehner responded: “There is a price for everything.”

And with that exchange, described by sources familiar with the Nov. 16 session, an issue that has been overshadowed by the fiscal cliff showdown moved to the forefront of already complicated negotiations to avert more than $500 billion in spending cuts and tax increases by the new year. With bitter memories of the 2011 debt-limit standoff still fresh, both sides are engaged in another aggressive round of hardball.

Yes, I know how badly the debt ceiling debate turned out last time around. Everything about it was terrible—not just the deal itself, but also the process of getting the deal. Nobody ended up looking good, and even though John Boehner said he got 98 percent of what he wanted, nobody was really happy about the final outcome.

But the key thing about the debt limit—and the reason that I'm not freaked out about it now—is that the debt limit will only be a crisis if congressional Republicans and the White House want it to be a crisis. Sure, Republicans might be crazy enough to try to relive the crisis, but President Obama doesn't appear to have any desire to do so—and he has it within his power to avert the crisis entirely—without a single act of Congress.

Remember, the debt limit is simply a statutory cap on the total amount of debt held by the United States government. Assuming Congress doesn't lift the cap, we'll eventually hit the cap because Congress is spending more than we're taking in. When that happens, we'll find ourselves in a situation where congressionally mandated spending is in conflict with the congressionally mandated debt limit. The general assumption has been that in such a scenario, the debt limit should be the controlling law, but that's an arbitrary assumption.

As Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin argued last year, with two conflicting statutes, both of which have a constitutional basis, the president must decide which one of them is unconstitutional. President Obama is nothing if not rational and while he certainly doesn't want to face that choice, it's clear that the best and most logical option would be to obey congressional legislation on spending by continuing to issue debt beyond the debt limit. Balkin also suggested another option: the trillion dollar coin. The president has the legal power to issue an unlimited amount of coinage in whatever denomination he sees fit. He could simply mint a trillion dollar coin and deposit it in the Federal Reserve, giving the government the funds it needs to make good on spending authorized by Congress.

Neither of these scenarios are ideal, but they are vastly preferable to a repeat of the 2011 debt limit crisis, and as long as the president agrees, there's nothing Republicans can do to stop him, at least not before the fact. As Balkin points out, Congress could respond by trying to impeach the president or by suing him, but given that his actions would have just saved the economy from collapse, the public would not have much patience for such actions. The real point of leverage for congressional Republicans would come at the end of the fiscal year when discretionary spending laws expire, but that's a point of leverage they already have.

The only way the debt ceiling will become another economic crisis is if both the White House and Republicans decide to make it one. That's exactly what happened in the summer of 2011, but so far the White House hasn't given any indication that it wants to see a replay of that debacle. And as long as they maintain the option of bypassing the debt limit with one of Balkin's strategies (or some other legal maneuver) the debt limit shouldn't be a big deal in 2013.

Originally posted to The Jed Report on Tue Nov 27, 2012 at 09:59 AM PST.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site