Debt limit? What debt limit?

As Republicans continue to hold the nation’s economic future hostage in negotiations over whether to increase the debt limit, some Democrats and legal experts are questioning the very constitutionality of the debt limit.

Most nation’s don’t have debt ceilings. The legislative body approves spending and revenue, and by those actions implicitly approves any debt that occurs. But since 1917, the U.S. has had a debt ceiling that must be raised to accommodate accumulated debt. Until now, that hasn’t caused serious problems because responsible members of Congress knew that the full faith and credit of the United States must never be jeopardized by failing to raise the limit.

Until now, when irresponsible members of Congress hold a majority in the House of Representatives.

Understand this: This debate is not over whether the limit ought to be raised. Even the most radical and austere budget plans introduced by Republicans in Congress call for raising the debt limit by trillions of dollars over the next decade. There is no feasible way for the United States to meet its current obligations and continue the ongoing functions of government without raising the limit. Congressional Republicans know this. But they also know that this must-pass legislation gives them tremendous leverage to get their way if they are willing to risk the global economic firestorm they know will result if their bluff is called. As congressional candidate Andy Schmookler put it, the Republican position is this: “Meet our demands or we’ll hurt America.”

But what if the debt limit itself is unconstitutional? What if President Obama said, “You know what? Congress approved this spending. Congress approved tax cuts and wars that weren’t paid for. Thousands of binding, legal acts of Congress resulted in this amassed debt, and this Congress cannot, having approved further spending and extension of tax cuts that guarantee trillions of dollars more debt, tell the executive branch that it cannot borrow to pay America’s obligations. The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says, ‘The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law… shall not be questioned.’ Therefore, the debt ceiling is unconstitutional and unenforceable. My administration will do what is right for the nation and the global economy. We will continue to fund the government programs approved by Congress – and pay past obligations – and we will continue to borrow to make up the difference between that and the level of revenue approved by Congress. The debt ceiling is hereby declared null and void.”

That probably won’t happen. But if Republicans continue to refuse to raise the debt limit unless Obama meets their one-sided demands, perhaps it should.

5 Responses to Debt limit? What debt limit?

  1. James Gilligan says:

    Apparently your awe of the debt ceiling has increased exponentially in the two years since Sen. Obama voted against raising it. I know. Bush was President. Shouldn’t that vote be non-partisan and with the good of the country at heart? How do you reconcile your histrionics now with his statement two years ago that echoes your title of this blog entry? Is no democrat hypocrisy worthy of your criticism?

    • Dan Radmacher says:


      Obama was wrong in 2006 (five years ago, not two), when he voted against raising the debt limit. It was also a symbolic vote by a junior senator from Illinois. It was not the party’s position, it had no chance of prevailing and he was not holding out his vote to win a policy argument in which he would not otherwise prevail. The situations simply are not comparable.

  2. James GIlligan says:

    “The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government’s reckless fiscal policies. … Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here. Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.”

    So, what he said then is also “not comparable”? Your righteous indignation is highly selective. Is it a failure of leadership? I’m sure he was speaking as the junior senator from Illinois but that is also the position from which he ran for the White House. What’s your point? Everything the democrats say is taken out of context. Conversely…

  3. Dan Radmacher says:

    I’ll see your Barack Obama quote and raise you a Ronald Reagan quote:

    “This country now possesses the strongest credit in the world. The full consequence of a default–or even the serious prospect of default–by the United States are impossible to predict and awesome to contemplate….The risks, the costs, the disruptions, and the incalculable damage lead me to but one conclusion: the Senate must pass this legislation before the Congress adjourns.”

    Are today’s Republicans hypocrites for making Reagan a saint but ignoring him on one of the most important issues facing the nation today?

    Again, Obama was wrong in 2006, completely and utterly wrong. Republicans are wrong now, but they also have the power – which Obama did not – to act on their wrongness and do incredible damage to both the Untied States and the global economy. They are behaving with utter irresponsibility bordering on insanity. No party has ever risked what they are risking now. They are holding the nation ransom unless their demands are met.

    • Joe Mostowey says:

      During The Bush Presidency, Our Current GOP Leaders Voted 19 Times To Increase Debt Limit By $4 Trillion

      Of course they are hypocrites

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