Monday, September 30, 2013

Obama Shouldn't Negotiate Over the Debt Ceiling Because the Debt Ceiling Isn't Negotiable


You see, this is part of the problem. In case you missed it, the main message of this video is this: 
"How can President Obama negotiate with Vladimir Putin over Syria, but not with Congressional Republicans over Washington's spending problem?"
There are a few obvious problems with this. First of all, as Matt Yglesias so sagely pointed out a few days ago, not raising the debt ceiling wouldn't cause the United States government to spend less money: 
"The debt ceiling has zero impact on either the appropriations process or the Social Security Act and other major pieces of entitlement spending. Those laws are all on the books, and those are the laws that determine the volume and pace of government spending. As a separate matter, we also have tax laws that bring money in to the government. Then we also have a borrowing process through which Treasury can plug the gap between the money it's legally entitled to collect and the money it's legally required to spend."
For that to change, you have to change the laws that appropriated the money in the first place. Not raising the debt ceiling just causes debt to pile up through channels other than U.S. Treasury bills. 

But even beyond this most elementary of mistakes the above ad makes, it ignores the much larger problem--as the title of this post says, the President shouldn't have to negotiate over the debt ceiling, because it fundamentally is not negotiable. In 2011, Obama made the mistake of negotiating over it and we got the lovely mess that is the sequester. This time around, he's (hopefully) learned his lesson and is calling the GOP's bluff. 

My ultimate point here is this: the difference between Obama negotiating with Putin over Syria and Obama not negotiating over the debt ceiling is that when it comes to the debt ceiling, avoiding a potential financial and constitutional crisis in the richest nation on earth isn't a Democratic party policy--it's just common sense. It isn't a concession by Republicans to not let the US default on its debts, therefore there's no need for there to be a negotiation over it, let alone for Obama to concede to the laundry list of conditions that was the GOP's opening bid. Imagine if the GOP had won the presidency, the Senate, and the popular vote in the House in 2012, and then Democrats refused to raise the debt ceiling until more gun control laws were put in place. And Medicare for all. And to raise taxes by 20% on top earners. And on and on. If that sounds ridiculous, that's because it is. (I'm not drawing a false comparison here--look at the GOP's demands in that link)

All of this reminds me of how, back in 2011, Republican leaders were insisting that economic uncertainty was holding back the economy. I believe the exact words John Boehner used were:
"I believe our mission as legislators is to liberate our economy from the things that impede growth...to provide clear policies, so that innovators and entrepreneurs have the green light to move forward and create jobs, without having to worry about second-guessing from Washington."
So naturally the best way to achieve this is to consistently try to hamstring an overhaul of our healthcare system, threaten a government shutdown, and (twice) raise the prospect of a U.S. default, right? But I digress...

In 2011, Obama made a fatal mistake in negotiating over the debt ceiling, which had repercussions we'll likely feel for years to come. Let's hope he's learned his lesson this time.