There Should Be No Debt Ceiling: It's Just a Cheap Tactic


A debt-ceiling is a cheap loophole. While not necessarily unconstitutional, to limit the amount of debt the Treasury Department incurs in order to pay for obligations the legislature branch has formerly approved is a legally troubling precedent. 

Could we put a cost upon defeating Hitler? We did, but raised that cost when we realized no amount of money could be too much when considering the fate of Western and Central Europe. 

The beauty of the Constitution is its universal applicability and fair treatment of each branch of government, and the responsibilities of each branch, as equally authoritative. The legislative branch wasn't given the constitutional pride of place under the first article for an arbitrary reason: democratic laws were supposed to be judged more important and legitimate than executive decisions. In other words, the severity of circumstances which call for one law do not mean that another law has less authority simply because it solves a seemingly trivial problem. 

This all makes today's consideration of debt-limits and self-imposed laws, which are either constitutional or unconstitutional, as embarrassing considerations. Frankly, could we possibly fashion a more direct obstacle to legislative authority than a debt limit? There seems to be no more appropriate authority with which to sully the respect of Congress than congressional authority itself. That's called satire. 

Let us be fair: A certain level of turnover in elections means that outgoing representatives and senators must forfeit their seats to incoming freshmen and resurgent favorites who bear no responsibility for the irresponsibly approved budget decisions of the recent past. But what is democracy? And why shouldn't "the validity of the public debt of the United States ... including debt incurred for payment of pensions ... be questioned?" (loose Fourteenth Amendment). That's not a rhetorical question, but an appropriate one for today.

On the face of it, of course everything, every law passed by the legislature should be questioned. Prohibition and its repeal? Dred Scott? Public debts can be forgone if they seek to pay for something that a new, representative government has democratically deemed unworthy of payment. This obviously calls into question the authority of the legislature, but only if former obligations can be rescinded through democratic means, not through threats.

Now, a debt-ceiling is a loophole and a lazy-republican's (SMALL r, not big R) means of challenging what they deem to be unpopular expenditures through autocratic, NOT democratic, means. Look at the European Union today. Haircuts on bond payments for Greek, Spanish, or Portuguese bond-holders may be begrudgingly accepted by bondholders, but they are accepted because the legal process through which those haircuts were decided upon was deemed a legally legitimated process. It's consistent. 

Arm-twisting and intimidation is, for all intents and purposes, democratic, but threats of mutually assured destruction, like the threat of a U.S default, are Cold War relics of a by-gone era. They should be viewed and, more importantly, forcefully treated like the foolish threats they are. 

After all, the Treasury Department can hypothetically choose between all of the approved programs from which to refuse funding to. Even if that is $1 for a parking meter or $1 trillion for Medicare, doesn't that mean that each and every program is hypothetically threatened equally? If every program is threatened equally with a refusal of fund disbursement, does that not negate the passage of the very laws which established their funding? 

In a legal sense, the very approval of a debt limit means that each and every governmental expenditure (besides interest payments) could be subject to a lack of funds, thereby making moot the entire legislative process.

Forget the fourteenth amendment; a debt-ceiling is a cheap, back-door loophole to relieve oneself of one's fiscal responsibilities under democratic demands and to gain autocratic political concessions. Those who seek to use the debt-ceiling as a bargaining chip are no better than the repulsive Roman, Clodius, who sold out his patrician soul to find plebeian support.