For the GOP to use the debt ceiling to put a gun to the head of the US and global economy until they get only massive spending cuts and no revenue enhancement is therefore the clearest sign yet of their abandonment of the last shreds of a conservative disposition. A conservative does not risk the entire economic system to score an ideological victory. That is what a fanatic does. And when that fanatical faction was responsible for huge spending binges in the recent past, for two off-budget wars costing $4.4 trillion, a new Medicare benefit, and tax revenues at a 50-year low relative to GDP and tax rates below the levels of Ronald Reagan, this insistence is lunacy, when it isn't gob-smackingly hypocritical. I say this as someone who was railing against too much spending when these people were throwing money away like it was confetti. "Deficits don't matter," remember?He's right. It's just shocking to see the GOP and its leaders, like Boehner and Ryan, talking about default so nonchalantly. But I'd just love to see the President invoke the 14th Amendment, pay the debt anyway, and then dare Congress to stop him. I can't find a clip, but a guy was explaining that to Chris Matthews yesterday, and pointing out that probably even Congress would not have the standing necessary to challenge it in court, meaning impeachment would be the only remedy. I'd just love to see that. Congress impeaching a President for keeping our economy from collapsing.
It seems to me there are two options the president can take. The first is what you are told to do when a criminal or terrorist holds a gun to your head. You surrender.
The point of economic blackmail is that it works. If you have a scintilla of public responsibility and you hold public office, you cannot allow default. And so you give them everything they want. You announce this while declaring you abhor the package but have to back it for the sake of the national interest in preventing catastrophe. You detail and expose the Republican priorities far more aggressively than in the past. You blame the performance of the economy entirely on them from now on out. And you run on a platform of shared sacrifice - of revenue-enhancing tax reform and tax hikes for millionaires. Then you run against the Republicans as hard as you can.
The second option is to bypass them, invoke the 14th Amendment, and order the Treasury to keep paying its debts because an extraordinarily reckless faction wants to destroy the American economy in order to save it (and pin the subsequent double-dip recession on Obama). Bruce Bartlett outlines the mechanism here. He has some other ideas for coping here.
What you probably cannot do is negotiate with economic equivalent of terrorists. What Cantor and Boehner are doing is essentially letting the world know they have an economic WMD in their possession. And it will go off if you do not give them everything they want, with no negotiation possible. That's the nature of today's GOP. It needs to be destroyed before it can recover.
Sanity, it seems, has gone on vacation.
UPDATE: My wife points my attention to this article, which explains the workings of the 14th Amendment argument. Money quote:
Writing in the Financial Times in April, Former Reagan adviser and Treasury official Bruce Bartlett said the Obama administration could justify ignoring Congress to ensure the nation pays its debts.
"The president would be justified in taking extreme actions to protect against a debt default. In the event that congressional irresponsibility makes default impossible to avoid, he should order the secretary of the Treasury to simply disregard the debt limit and sell whatever securities are necessary to raise cash to pay the nation's debts. They are protected by the full faith and credit of the United States and preventing default is no less justified than using American military power to protect against an armed invasion without a congressional declaration of war," Bartlett wrote. "Under those circumstances, when default is the only possible alternative, I believe that the president and the Treasury secretary would be justified in taking extraordinary action to prevent it, even if it means violating the debt limit."
However, if Obama were to follow that route, it's still unclear how the courts would rule.
Grim and Saass point to the 1935 Perry v. U.S Supreme Court ruling, which determined that the language in the Fourteenth Amendment does apply to the national debt. What's more, they observe, according to the majority opinion on the case, no act of Congress can undermine promises of debt payment from the federal government.
"To say that the Congress may withdraw or ignore that pledge is to assume that the Constitution contemplates a vain promise; a pledge having no other sanction than the pleasure and convenience of the pledgor," wrote Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, who presided over the case.The plot thickens. According to that interpretation, Congress is forbidden from doing exactly what they're doing now, i.e. holding a gun to the President's head over the debt. Again, this seems like the sort of issue where the Supreme Court will just scream "Political question!" and run for the hills. Or simply say that Congress lacks standing to bring a suit against the President.