Here we go again

| Congress has been infected by the Tea Party virus, and it has now spread from the House to the Senate. They want their way, and if they don't get it they are going to blow up the government and the economy. And their way right now means sabotaging or getting rid of the Affordable Care Act (AKA "Obamacare").

Having struck out three times, the Tea Party extremists are trying to use the need to fund the government for the next fiscal year, beginning October 1, as leverage to get their way. The House sent to the Senate a continuing resolution that funded the government into mid-December. The Senate amended the CR to eliminate the "defunding" language and sent it back to the House. It now seems that the House is bent on responding by sending over another CR that includes provisions for "delaying" Obamacare for a year and repealing permanently one of the taxes that helps fund Obamacare. The Senate won't pass such a bill, and the President wouldn't sign such a bill, so this amounts to a determination by the House that they will shut the government down. They are essentially undermining the government and the rule of law.

When a two-year-old throws a temper tantrum, you give her a time-out. If she holds her breath you ignore her because eventually she will breathe. Painful as it will be, it will be better to endure the pain of a government shutdown than to submit to blackmail/extortion.

How so? When you reinforce behavior you get more of it, even when the reinforcement is intermittent. Look no farther than Las Vegas and the gambling industry. Slot machines are programmed to give you a few coins every now and then to keep you pulling that lever.

And this is only the opening act. Once we get past the temporary funding of a continuing resolution, we bump our heads against the so-called debt-ceiling. A government shutdown over the continuing resolution will be painful and inconvenient; failure to raise the debt ceiling will be catastrophic for the economy.

About that debt ceiling. Until 1917 there was no such thing as a debt ceiling. Congress either authorized certain specific loans or allowed borrowing for specific purposes; obviously this was a cumbersome process. In 1917 a statutory debt limit was established by the Second Liberty Bond Act.


Historically, whenever the total amount of debt at any one time reaches the ceiling, Congress raises the ceiling.  Why shouldn't they? After all, Congress already approved the spending! Under President/Saint Ronald Reagan the debt ceiling was raised 18 times! In fact, during his tenure Dick Gephardt imposed the "Gephardt Rule" which deemed the debt ceiling raised when a budget was passed.

There are only two democratic nations that have a debt ceiling, the US and Denmark. When was the last time you heard about a Danish crisis over their debt ceiling? You haven't because they adjust the debt ceiling automatically to reflect spending appropriations. Pretty much what Dick Gephardt did.

The Republicans are already working on their list of demands (everything they have wanted and couldn't get in the Obama era). President Barack Obama has declared often and loudly, "I won't negotiate on anything when it comes to the full faith and credit of the United States of America."

And he shouldn't. The Tea Partyers are really intent on destroying the government and giving in to them on this is just being an enabler.

The right wing is fond of appeals to the Constitution (at least the version that exists in their imaginations).  Section 4 of the 14th amendment says:

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.

"[S]hall not be questioned" — if I were President Obama I would hold tough on the debt ceiling. Then, when the ceiling is reached, I would request prime-time coverage from the network and make a statement like the following:

I have today issued an executive order to the Treasury to continue necessary borrowing to pay the nation's bills. I am doing this under the authority of the 14th amendment that provides that 'the validity of the public debt ... shall not be questioned'. I cannot allow a small group of Republican representatives and senators to call our debt into question.

And, if I were president, I would say under my breath, "And if you don't like it, sue me." A lawsuit would pit a statute against the 14th amendment and it would be hard for the court to find in favor of the statute. That would end this nonsense once and for all.

View slideshow

Last updated on Apr 13, 2018



Recent Articles