It's Time to Kill the Debt Ceiling

There are a number of strange aspects to the negotiation/maneuvering/posturing now taking place between the White House and congressional Republicans about the Austerity Trap (a.k.a. fiscal cliff), but one that hasn't gotten much attention is the disagreement over the debt ceiling. As part of their initial offer, the White House included something I and other people have been advocating for some time: Just get rid of the debt ceiling altogether. The Republicans, particularly in the House, don't seem to be interested. But we should take a good look at how crazy their position on this issue is.

In an ordinary negotiation, each side has things it wants, while it dislikes some or all of the things the other side wants. A union wants higher wages for its workers, while the company doesn't want to pay the higher wages. You'd rather have your partner do the laundry while you do the dishes, but your partner doesn't like doing the laundry either. The White House wants to increase taxes on the wealthy, which Republicans don't like, while Republicans want cuts to social programs, which the White House doesn't like.

But the debt ceiling is something entirely different. In this case, what Republicans want is the ability to plunge the country into a financial catastrophe, making life miserable for who knows how many Americans. That's what they want. Seriously. You might say, well, all they actually want is the ability to threaten to plunge the country into a financial catastrophe so they can extract concessions, but the threat would be meaningless unless they were willing to follow through on it. So if you wanted to be generous, you could say that what Republicans want in this particular aspect of the negotiation is to maintain their ability to credibly threaten to plunge the country into financial catastrophe.

If the debt ceiling were still what it used to be—nothing more than an opportunity, once a year or so, for the opposition party to give speeches on the floor decrying the majority's profligate ways, followed by a pro forma vote to raise it—then they wouldn't care about maintaining it. They want to keep it because the threat of economic calamity is a weapon they can use to extort policy concessions they wouldn't be able to get otherwise. Grover Norquist even suggested we should have a hostage crisis every month.

In the public part of these negotiations, each side will be making the case for why the things it wants are good and why the things the other side wants are bad. But so far I haven't seen Republicans forced to explain why the debt ceiling is a good thing to have. They might argue that doing away with it once and for all takes power away from Congress and gives it to the president, but that's not true. Congress already has all the power over spending, so it decides whether we're going to need to borrow more money or not. The debt ceiling just makes them take an extra vote on a budget they've already set.

Imagine that you went in to negotiate for a higher salary, and your boss said, "Before we start, you should know that I'm reserving the right to hold a gun to your daughter's head and threaten to kill her if I don't get what I want out of this negotiation. But don't worry—the possibility that I might kill her will really get everyone focused and produce good results for all of us in the end." That's a bit of an extreme analogy—but only a bit.

Eliminating the debt ceiling once and for all may seem like a secondary part of these negotiations, but Democrats really should push it to the forefront. Make Republicans defend the hostage-taking that they did in 2011 and the fact that they want the ability to do it again when it suits them. Maybe then we can finally slay this beast.

Comments

And, while you're at it, get rid of Congress as well. All they do is get in the way of the Obamanation.

Yes by all means, let's enable unlimited spending and put it in the hands of one emperor, I'm sure that will work out fine. Absolute power never creates a problem. Sheesh.

Wow, the depth of stupidity show by the author of this article is astonishing. Does the notion of "checks and balances" mean anything?

The complete an utter lack of understanding of how the US government was laid out by our founding fathers is utterly shocking. Its clear the younger generations have really not been educated and really do not appreciate why these ideas are so valuable.

With the likes of these people, we are destined to repeat the unfortunate parts of history including having tyrants and autocrats for leaders. This is what the price of a stupid electorate is.

Finally a coherent thought! with this congress could once a year print $1 million for every American - and selected undocumented workers - to do away with the income disparity created by our Capitalistic system. Genius!

Have the posters who claim that this proposal would undermine "checks and balances" have no understanding of the constitutional system? Congress's power exists because they alone can appropriate money. The absurdity of our current system lies in the fact that they pass a budget which is in deficit and then get to decry the fact that the budget they've passed increases the debt! It is asinine. Congress, not the President has the power in matters of spending and taxation. How exactly then do folks believe the GOP speaker when he says spending is Obama's fault?!

The current GOP House has proven itself to be wildly irresponsible. Their Tea Party representatives apparently believe that compromise is a dirty word, that paying for money that you already borrowed is bad fiscal policy, and that playing Russian roulette with the world's economy is good politics. So yeah, considering the reality of who we elect to represent us, then we definitely need to limit their self-destructive power. That's a true check and balance if you ask me.

Hilarious--utterly hilarious. Your column drips with that particularly grating combination of scorn and ignorance. I would like to inform you that there are some people in Congress (not a majority, and not all Republicans) that believe that we should NOT raise the debt ceiling.

It's not time to kill the debt ceiling, it's time to kill budgets that spend more than revenues generate. Oh wait, we can't kill a budget because the democratically controlled senate has not passed a budget in four years. But baseline budgeting (aka Budget Control Act of 1974) means we have automatic spending increases, year after year. So the debt ceiling is the only brake we have against the runaway freight train of Democratic largess and fiscal fantasy. So sorry that a tiny minority in the House is attempting to exercise common sense.

But don't worry, you won't really lose, since our republican/tea party/conservative reps are too weak to stop the madness. So all you really get is a delay, and maybe have to make a few concessions in exchange for your power to relegate our once great nation to banana republic status. But don't ask us to feel sympathy for you when you complain that our descent to unprecedented (literally-never in the world seen before) debt-to-GPD ratios has been slowed by those weak and mushy Republicans who--by golly--outta give up their last wisp of negotiating leverage, according to this editorial piece de resistance.

Yeh I was wondering what a "comment troll" is? Is that somebody who reads your idiotic articles and feels the need to make a comment about just how idiotic they are?

I'm pretty sure people who have absolutely no concept of the real-life consequences of runaway public debt should refrain from writing articles that show just how ignorant they really are to reality. This article reads like a middle school paper from a middle school mind.

If you want to kill the debt ceiling, you'll have to amend the US Constitution FIRST, and not find an imaginary right to do so within "emanations and penumbras".

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