May 5, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
On debt ceiling, ask for forgiveness, not permission
Biden won’t be asked for an apology, though.
One thing everyone agrees on is failure to lift the debt ceiling is badbad for everyone for no good reasonreason. So Joe Biden should avoid waiting for permission from the House Republicans. He should pay the country’s debts, then say sorry for stopping a mass global panic.
He won’t have to do that.
What little leverage the House Republicans have (if you can call it that) is presuming the Biden administration will not continue paying off debts without authorization by the Congress. Now, according to the Times, the White House seems prepared to take away even that.
Officials are debating whether to ignore them. The idea, the Times said, “rests on the 14th Amendment clause stating that “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.”
Moreover, Jim Tankersley reported: “A group of legal scholars and some liberal activists have pushed the constitutional challenge to the borrowing limit for more than a decade. No previous administration has taken it up. Lawyers at the White House and the Justice and Treasury Departments have never issued formal opinions on the question. And legal scholars disagree about the constitutionality of such a move.”
These questions are serious but so are the consequences of betraying the full faith and credit of the United States. I’m no authority on the matter, but it seems to me common sense to think that normal people are not going to wonder about the constitutionality of anything after about $15 trillion in personal wealth around the world goes poofthph.
They are going to wonder why Biden didn’t act.
No administration has considered moving without congressional authorization because no previous Congress has demonstrated so much willingness to play a game of chicken in which everyone loses. No lawyers from any federal department have issued any opinions about it for the same reason. The House Republicans are forcing the issue. They never balked at the Trump administration. The most prudent choice, then, would be for Biden to ask for forgiveness, not permission.
The irony is the House Republicans probably won’t ask for an apology. They’d have to admit to being responsible for forcing the issue. Imagine hearings in which Jim Jordan demands to know why Biden privileged billions of normal people over his dearly beloved Constitution.
But Jordan won’t, because, as the chair of the House committee that’s investigating the weaponization of the federal government, he’d rather avoid bringing attention to the fact that his party is weaponizing the federal government, in this case, his dearly beloved Constitution.
Jim Jordan would rather avoid such a sight because most people believe the Constitution is a contract among Americans, for the protection of Americans, not a contract on them. Jordan and his redhat comrades need us to see them as honorable stewards of liberty. That image fades the moment they’re seen using the Constitution as a ransom note.
The president may not need to diss the Congress, though.
The House Democrats are working on a plan to force a vote to lift the borrowing cap, making the whole problem disappear, for now. They need just four House Republicans for the “discharge petition.” (It requires 218 signatures. The GOP majority stands at 222.)
You can be sure four of them are looking for reasonreasons. You can be sure one of those is knowing there are no good reasons not to.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.