As early as June 1, the federal government will run out of money to pay all of its bills unless the debt ceiling is raised and more money can be borrowed. The United States has never defaulted on its obligations, so many people believe we won't this time.
I disagree. I think there's a better chance of our country entering financial meltdown than of the debt ceiling being raised in enough time to avert a major catastrophe.
Usually I want my political predictions to come true. In this case I want to be proven wrong. However, my reading of the political tea leaves is that the rise of far-right crazies in the Republican Party changes all of the calculations based on what has transpired in the past, debt ceiling wise.
President Biden still believes in bipartisanship. A majority of House Republicans don't. Thus a story in Politico is almost pathetic as it describes Biden's hope for a collaboration with the GOP that reflects times gone by, not today.
Biden and his team had been buoyed by their belief that a consensus building approach — though perpetually doubted — worked for them before, including with the passage of an infrastructure package and the far-reaching legislation that became the Inflation Reduction Act. But the debt ceiling standoff has so far proved stubbornly different, with Republicans showing a surprisingly united front and the president risking taking the brunt of the blame if the nation defaults for the first time in its history.
Biden seems to think that congressional Republicans want to ensure that our country doesn't enter a deep recession, or even a depression, due to full faith in the credit worthiness of the federal government taking a nose dive because of an inability to pay its bills.
Actually, Republicans want to take back the presidency in 2024, along with control of both the House and Senate. The best way to do that is for Biden and Democrats to be saddled with a massive economic downturn.
Which is what defaulting on our debt would do.
The Freedom Caucus effectively controls the House of Representatives. Those far-right members got promises from Kevin McCarthy in return for giving him the backing to become Speaker of the House after 15 votes.
I don't see the Freedom Caucus being satisfied with any debt ceiling agreement that Biden is willing to sign and congressional Democrats are willing to support. Again, maybe I'm wrong.
Perhaps McCarthy has a political cattle prod that will jolt the Freedom Caucus into supporting a much pared down version of the extreme debt ceiling bill passed by the House with exactly zero votes to spare. This just seems very unlikely to me.
Most House Republicans back Trump. Trump loves chaos, the more the better.
If the federal government can be put in the position of having to decide whether purchasers of treasury bonds get paid interest on the debt they hold, or whether federal employees have to miss paychecks, this will bring smiles to the malevolent faces of Biden-hating Republicans.
In short, they don't care about the damage failure to raise the debt ceiling will do to the United States and the world. They care about winning in 2024 and restoring Trump to the presidency again.
Now, my dire prediction of what's going to happen soon, probably as early as June, rests on an assumption that Biden isn't going to invoke the 14th Amendment -- which he definitely should. Laurence Tribe, a noted constitutional scholar, has been arguing for this along with many others.
At this moment, at the White House as well as the Departments of Treasury and Justice, officials are debating a legal theory that previous presidents and any number of legal experts — including me — ruled out in 2011, when the Obama administration confronted a default.
The theory builds on Section 4 of the 14th Amendment to argue that Congress, without realizing it, set itself on a path that would violate the Constitution when, in 1917, it capped the size of the federal debt.
...Section 4 of the 14th Amendment says the “validity” of the public debt “shall not be questioned” — ever.
...The question isn’t whether the president can tear up the debt limit statute to ensure that the Treasury Department can continue paying bills submitted by veterans’ hospitals or military contractors or even pension funds that purchased government bonds.
The question isn’t whether the president can in effect become a one-person Supreme Court, striking down laws passed by Congress.
The right question is whether Congress — after passing the spending bills that created these debts in the first place — can invoke an arbitrary dollar limit to force the president and his administration to do its bidding.
There is only one right answer to that question, and it is no.
And there is only one person with the power to give Congress that answer: the president of the United States. As a practical matter, what that means is this: Mr. Biden must tell Congress in no uncertain terms — and as soon as possible, before it’s too late to avert a financial crisis — that the United States will pay all its bills as they come due, even if the Treasury Department must borrow more than Congress has said it can.
Biden hasn't ruled out using the 14th Amendment to avert a financial catastrophe. But he's expressed more concerns about doing this than I think are valid. Like, an obvious one: invoking the 14th Amendment would lead to a legal challenge.
Well, of course it would. So what?
If a reasonable agreement to raise the debt ceiling can't be worked out with Kevin McCarthy, then before the debt ceiling is breached Biden should announce that's he's ordering the Treasury Department to borrow enough money to pay the bills of the federal government in accord with the 14th Amendment.
That action will be appealed to the Supreme Court. Fine.
If a majority on the Supreme Court want to allow our nation to default on its debt, then the ensuing financial catastrophe is on them. Biden and the Democrats tried to work out a deal to raise the debt limit. Republican intransigence made that impossible.
So the 14th Amendment was invoked. As Tribe says, this isn't ideal, but it's the better option.
The president should remind Congress and the nation, “I’m bound by my oath to preserve and protect the Constitution to prevent the country from defaulting on its debts for the first time in our entire history.” Above all, the president should say with clarity, “My duty faithfully to execute the laws extends to all the spending laws Congress has enacted, laws that bind whoever sits in this office — laws that Congress enacted without worrying about the statute capping the amount we can borrow.”
By taking that position, the president would not be usurping Congress’s lawmaking power or its power of the purse. Nor would he be usurping the Supreme Court’s power to “say what the law is,” as Chief Justice John Marshall once put it. Mr. Biden would simply be doing his duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” even if doing so leaves one law — the borrowing limit first enacted in 1917 — temporarily on the cutting room floor.
Ignoring one law in order to uphold every other has compelling historical precedent. It’s precisely what Abraham Lincoln did when he briefly overrode the habeas corpus law in 1861 to save the Union, later saying to Congress, “Are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?”
For a president to pick the lesser of two evils when no other option exists is the essence of constitutional leadership, not the action of a tyrant. And there is no doubt that ignoring the debt ceiling until Congress either raises or abolishes it is a lesser evil than leaving those with lawful claims against the Treasury out in the cold.