Truth Before Dishonor

I would rather be right than popular

There’s a hole in my debt ceiling, dear Liza, dear Liza

Posted by Dana Pico on 2011/12/27


There’s a children’s song, “There’s a hole in my bucket,” that any parent has heard several thousand times too often, but it winds up circular. And so it is with the federal budget and the debt ceiling. But, not to worry, this isn’t like other debt ceiling problems. From The Wall Street Journal:


Treasury Sees U.S. Debt Near Limit By End Of Friday


By Jeff Bater

The U.S. debt will come within $100 billion of its ceiling on Friday, and the Treasury Department anticipates the Obama administration will begin steps to seek a $1.2 trillion increase in the limit.

A senior Treasury official on Tuesday told reporters the administration will need to let Congress know when the debt gets within $100 billion of the ceiling, expected to happen by the close of business Friday. Currently, the debt limit is $15.194 trillion, and it would be $16.394 trillion after an increase.

Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, the president submits a written certification to Congress when the debt subject to the limit is within $100 billion. Congress can consider “a joint resolution of disapproval.” If such a resolution is not enacted within 15 calendar days, the debt limit will be increased. If a resolution is enacted within the 15 days, the debt limit will not be increased. If Congress adopted such a resolution, the president could veto it.

I guess that there won’t be any debt ceiling fight this time. The President will tell the Congress that he is increasing the debt ceiling, and the House of Representatives, controlled by the Republicans, will probably vote a resolution of disapproval. The Senate, controlled by the Democrats will not vote on such, because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will not schedule a vote. If there happened to be a sufficient number of Democratic Senators who wanted to get on the record against the debt ceiling increase, Senator Reid might allow the vote, knowing that the President would then veto it. At that point, Senator Reid will have already arranged to have 35 or 36 Democratic Senators not up for re-election¹ available to sustain the President’s veto.²

But this situation only exists because the Congress, in the last debt ceiling bill, agreed to surrender their power to set the debt ceiling to the President, and the House of Representatives was controlled by the Republicans when that bill was passed; the Democrats don’t get all of the blame. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Minority Leader, said at the time:

Never again will any president, from either party, be allowed to raise the debt ceiling without being held accountable for it by the American people and without having to engage in the kind of debate we’ve just come through.

Note Senator McConnell’s words: never again will any president be able to raise he debt ceiling without being held accountable. But, apparently the Congress won’t be held accountable, because they created a system which every single Member of Congress who is running for re-election could vote against it, and still not prevent it.

So, we have a debt ceiling, passed with great fanfare — and great relief — which is absolutely meaningless. The next time the debt ceiling is approached should be in late 2012, probably after the election rather than before it. The Republicans will be hammering on President Obama and the Democrats throughout the 2012 campaign for their reckless spending, but the Republicans had the power, all by themselves, to stop the increase in the national debt, and they lacked the courage to do so.
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¹ – Out of 53 Democratic Senators, 30 are not up for re-election in 2012, and 7 whose seats are up for re-election have decided to retire at the end of their terms.
² – Overriding a Presidential veto requires a 2/3 super-majority in each House of Congress.

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