July 7, 2011

The Debt Ceiling Crisis

Jim Wallis posted an essay today called “The Debt Ceiling Play: My ‘CliffsNotes’ Version” on his God’s Politics blog. It is hardly the definitive word on the ridiculous drama playing out in Washington, D.C., but Wallis does offer some notable lines. For example, he offers this characterization of the conflict:
It is a conflict between those who believe in the common good and those who believe individual good is the only good. While a biblical worldview informs Christians that they should be wary of the rich and defend the poor, a competing ideology says that wealth is equivalent to righteousness and God’s blessing.
My favorite line is this one:
Not raising the federal debt limit isn’t like cutting up your credit card. It’s like cutting up your credit card bill.
You can read what Wallis has to say here.
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Like most Americans, apparently, I am frustrated with President Obama. My complaint is not that he is too “liberal,” but that he is too nice. He persists in believing that Republicans actually care about ordinary people, that they are willing to negotiate in good faith, and that they have some clue as to how to control the Tea Party and prevent its crazies from destroying the Republican Party and the country along with it.

In the present circumstances, I am frustrated that Obama has bought into the notion that immediate reduction of the federal deficit is more important than devising a plan for rescuing our anemic economy and making it possible for the economy eventually to support the level of government needed in a complex and (one hopes) humane society.

So, what should the President do? He should declare that the debt ceiling is a mythical construct, that Congress’s authorizing spending obliges the Executive Branch to finance that spending, and that to fail to pay the country’s debt is unconstitutional. The basis for this is Section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment:
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. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
He should then tell Congress to turn its attention to something important, such as figuring out how to create more jobs. Certainly, threatening to default on government obligations is not a strategy likely to encourage investment and job creation! If the Republicans are unhappy with the President’s new-found cojones, they can sue. They won’t win, but the country will.

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