The planned meeting between President Biden and congressional leaders over the debt ceiling and budget was postponed, and that’s just as well, because over the last few days, there’s been a slow but steady softening in Biden’s “no negotiating the debt ceiling” stance. Maybe a break from negotiations will stiffen his resolve.
The White House continues to insist talks are only about the budget, but that’s starting to sound like semantics. As far as Republicans are concerned, this is one big negotiation: They got Biden to come to the table to talk about cuts by taking the debt ceiling hostage, and it’s hard to say
they’re wrong. They wanted talks on spending levels, and they’re getting them—without having released the hostage.
There is some disquieting rhetoric being reported these days. Like this, from Reuters: “White House officials acknowledge that they must accept some spending cuts or strict caps on future spending if they are to strike a deal, two sources said.” That sure sounds like negotiating with economic terrorists.
Then there’s Biden himself, essentially conceding the Republicans’ point rhetorically: that spending has to be controlled.
He did the same thing in his speech about the situation in New York this week. “I believe in cutting spending and cutting the deficit,” he told the crowd. “America has the strongest economy in the world, and we should be cutting spending and lowering the deficit without a needless crisis, in a responsible way,” he said.
Look how he frames the message that he is making oil and gas companies start paying their fair share: “For example, my budget cuts $30 billion in wasteful spending on tax subsidies to the gas and oil companies.” That’s not a cut! That’s getting money back that this huge industry owes the federal government.
That’s just ceding rhetorical ground to Republicans and giving their position undeserved legitimacy. This is a very big red flag. If that’s softening us up to get us prepared for concessions to Republicans on cuts, it’s bullshit and is going to undo so much of what Biden achieved earlier this year in taking Social Security and Medicare cuts off the table.
What Biden could be out there talking about is the fact that he doesn’t need to negotiate the debt ceiling because he has a constitutional ace in the hole. His movement this week toward the argument that the 14th Amendment could allow him to act unilaterally was encouraging. His caveat that he’s not considering it now, but for the next time the Republicans take the economy hostage, was not.
The constitutional experts are telling him that he doesn’t have to wait. “I don’t think there is any litigation to fear,” Lawrence Tribe, a constitutional law scholar who teaches at Harvard Law School, told reporters.
Rather than waiting for the courts to give him permission, he could just act. He could tell the Republican-controlled Congress to sue him for doing the job of paying the debts they incurred, and dare the Supreme Court to decide if the nation should go into default.
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