The debt ceiling and the paradoxes of hope

One of the worst things about this ongoing debt ceiling clusterfuck is that it is making me hope for things I would otherwise oppose. First, it’s making me hope that Congress really is completely owned by big finance, which would never want to let a U.S. default occur. Second, it’s making me hope that if Congress fails to act, the president will declare a “state of exception” in order to ignore a law passed by Congress. In fact, a recent New York Times op-ed argues that the president should ignore the debt ceiling, not “based on some obscure provision of the 14th amendment, but on the necessities of state, and on the president’s role as the ultimate guardian of the constitutional order, charged with taking care that the laws be faithfully executed.” As they explain:

When Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War, he said that it was necessary to violate one law, lest all the laws but one fall into ruin. So too here: the president may need to violate the debt ceiling to prevent a catastrophe — whether a default on the debt or an enormous reduction in federal spending, which would throw the country back into recession.

A deadlocked Congress has become incapable of acting consistently; it commits to entitlements it will not reduce, appropriates funds it does not have, borrows money it cannot repay and then imposes a debt ceiling it will not raise. One of those things must give; in reality, that means that the conflicting laws will have to be reconciled by the only actor who combines the power to act with a willingness to shoulder responsibility — the president.

A further expansion of the imperial presidency in domestic policy is probably not something any of us would support in principle — yet in this case, it seems like our last hope.

One thought on “The debt ceiling and the paradoxes of hope

  1. Matt Yglesias argues that the debt ceiling crisis is typical of crises that Madisonian democracies generate, and the solutions offered, such as invoking the 14th amendment, or Obama simply breaking the deadlock unilaterally, are also typical of Madisonian democracies:

    So it may be that it’s luck only, nothing structural, that’s kept us from turning into a banana republic. And maybe we one day will. The only question is when the times comes whether it’ll be a military coup, or some President for life setting aside the 22nd amendment because the crisis of the moment can only be met by his/her surpassing awesomeness.

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