September 29, 2021

Eliminate the Debt Ceiling

There seems to be general agreement in Congress that the nation should pay its bills. At the moment, this requires raising the dysfunctional mechanism called the debt ceiling. (The debt ceiling was created in 1917 as a kind of public relations mechanism aimed at citizen concerns about the cost of entering World War I.) If the debt ceiling is not raised, the government could, for the first time, default on its financial obligations, an event that would have disastrous consequences for both public and private borrowers.

Democrats are prepared to do what is necessary and responsible; Republicans, although they acknowledge the need to raise the debt ceiling, are refusing to help the Democrats do it. Senator Mitch McConnell has told Democrats that they must do it themselves, but he and his Repubican Senate colleagues have blocked accomplishing this necessary task in any straightforward way.

I offer a proposal to the Democrats. It gets the job done, raises a finger to McConnell and his band of hypocritical cronies, and it rids the country of a self-inflicted wound that refuses to heal.

The problem, as usual, is in the Senate. The Democratic House majority could easily pass a bill to raise the debt ceiling, but the filabuster in the Senate allows Republicans to block a similar action. By a simple majority, however, the Senate can change the filabuster rules to allow simple majority votes on bills directly affecting the full faith and credit of the United States. With the slightest bit of arm twisting, I suspect that the two Democrats who have refused to eliminate the filabuster would agree to this critical carve-out. Once the filabuster rules are changed, the Democrats should pass a bill that eliminates the whole notion of a debt limit. A House vote and signature of the president can then follow. We lived without a debt ceiling for more than a century; we can live without it again.

Well, Democrats, are you going to save the fiscal health of the nation or not? If you don’t, Republicans will blame you. If you do, they will blame you anyway, but you can still put the real blame on them.

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