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Biden’s Debt-Ceiling Deal Passes House; Senator Warren Vows Repeal of Debt Ceiling

Congressman Dusty Johnson voted with his Speaker last night to approve President Biden’s debt-ceiling deal and avert a global economic catastrophe. H.R. 3746 passed 314–1117, with 165 Democrats and 149 pragmatic Republicans voting aye and 46 Democrats and 71 Republicans voting nay. 52 Democrats had to ride in and quash a radical right-wing rebellion on an earlier 241–187 procedural vote. So, thanks, Dusty, for some brief sensibility, but let the record show that, on balance, Democrats are the leaders willing to make sacrifices to protect America’s economic security while Republicans lean more toward the Trumpist practice of creating chaos and not paying bills.

The debt-ceiling deal now goes to the Senate, where Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is still weighing the pros and cons of the deal:

Elizabeth Warren doesn’t like much at all about the deal to raise the debt ceiling. The only reason she might vote for it is hardly an endorsement: default would be worse.

“We have to weigh the consequences of default,” the progressive Massachusetts senator said in an interview, “against the pain that Republicans are trying to impose on hungry Americans, students, our climate and the Republicans’ constant enthusiasm for protecting billionaire tax cheats” [Burgess Everett, Holly Otterbein, and Nicholas Wu, “Why the Left Held Its Fire on No-Win Debt Deal,” Politico, 2023.06.01].

…and, with her usual straightforward smarts, is pointing out that the problem here is that we shouldn’t have a debt ceiling:

So as Warren deliberates how she herself will vote, her mind is already on how to avoid this next time.

“Democrats need to make it a top priority just to get rid of this debt ceiling. The Republicans have shown us enough times now how they plan to use it,” she said. “And if we don’t learn from that, shame on us” [Everett, Otterbein, and Wu, 2023.06.01].

If we want to limit the debt, we have to do it at the front end, when we decide to spend. In our personal family budgets—which kitchen-table counting Republicans often err in analogizing to the very different world of fiscal policy and global macroeconomics but which here may illustrate—if we don’t want our debt to surpass some arbitrary level—say, $250K, or 20% of our income—we don’t go out and buy a new car after we’ve reached that limit, at least not until we’ve paid down enough of that debt to take out that car loan. The bank may help us respect that debt limit: if Wells Fargo sees you’re already spending 50% of your income paying past obligations, they probably won’t float you a loan for a big new purchase.

But if you are at your personal debt limit, you don’t get to turn to the folks who already hold your mortgage and say, “Sorry! I’ve just declared a personal debt ceiling, and making this month’s house payment would violate that personal debt ceiling, so I’m not sending you a check this month.” You don’t get to tell the guys mowing your lawn, “Thanks for coming, and I know we signed that contract for weekly service, but my personal debt ceiling means I’m not paying this week.” The bank, the mowing crew, and your other creditors give not one hoot about your arbitrary limits; they want their money for services rendered and they have a right to it.

Ditto the government, which is us: when we buy tanks and guns, when we make laws promising retirement checks and health coverage, when we appropriate federal funds and incur contractual obligations of any sort, we have an obligation to pay those obligations.

Besides, an arbitrary debt ceiling pretending to hamstring the payment of those obligations probably violates the Fourteenth Amendment:

The Public Debt Clause says “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, … shall not be questioned.” That 1868 provision was intended primarily to prevent repudiation of Civil War debts. But the Supreme Court in Perry v. United States (1935) held that all federal debt is covered: The constitutional text applies “to the government bonds in question, and to others duly authorized by the Congress.”…

Here are my conclusions, tempered by awareness that legal authorities across the ideological spectrum have wide‐​ranging views: First, duly enacted appropriations are legally the counterpart of “public debt … authorized by law.” Second, default on public debt, like repudiation, casts doubt on the debt’s “validity,” and therefore is unconstitutional under the Public Debt Clause. Third, a congressional ban on all funding sources to pay principal and interest would lead ineluctably to default, and is thus unconstitutional as well. But fourth, a debt ceiling that forecloses only one source of funding, leaving open several alternative sources, passes constitutional muster. On the other hand, if default loomed because Congress and the president were unable to agree on a solution, I believe the president would be justified in breaching the debt ceiling [Robert A. Levy, “Is the Debt Ceiling Unconstitutional? What About Default?” Cato Institute, 2023.05.08].

We probably won’t get to test the debt ceiling against the 14th Amendment or my preferred solution of the trillion-dollar coin; the Senate mostly recognizes the reality of divided government and the need to avert economic disaster and will likely pass the Biden deal before the Monday deadline. But expect Senator Warren to be on the phone after Monday working to hold the Senate and the White House, retake the House, and use renewed Democratic majorities to repeal the dumb idea of the debt ceiling.


  1. P. Aitch 2023-06-01 08:09

    Mitigating our shared national debt.
    “Sell Texas To China”
    *It would also address USA’s border quandary while making available plenty of Chinese laborers.

  2. John 2023-06-01 09:35

    Senator-president Biden made himself look weak by inventing a deal with McCarthy, and in so doing likely reduced the enthusiasm of the youth vote.
    The debt ceiling is a made-up crisis. The courts should rule that the Constitution’s 14th Amendment is the law of the land. Federal employees are suing that the debt ceiling law and nonsense is unconstitutional.

    Republican’s modus operand is to divert and deflect – avoiding discussing or solving real problems. It’s their distracting factors while socializing costs and privatizing wealth. Yet, idiots in droves vote against their interests.
    Here are 5 examples of republican divert and deflect. One could add, China, as the 6th, for the Chinese demographic bomb is shrinking its relevance.

  3. Donald Pay 2023-06-01 10:43

    I don’t think we should have a debt limit, but Congress and Presidents should also be much more responsible about budgeting. A lot of debt may be necessary in difficult times, such as war, pandemics or depressions. And a little debt is OK in normal times if you are investing in the future. But the goal should be over time to balance revenues and outlays.

    There are a lot of things I would cut, starting with a lot of fancy gadgets for the military. I would zero out the “space force,” the nuclear weapons program, the subsidies to nuclear power. From what I saw on 60 Minutes, the entire military audit program is in shambles (thanks Trump), so we are paying way over what we should be paying for what we shouldn’t be paying for anyway. Yeah, I’d zero out Ellsworth AFB.

    The Green Scissors project has been pretty good over the years in finding waste to cut. Their database for the upcoming year is not out yet, but current year cuts proposed last year are in the link below:

  4. Jeff Barth 2023-06-01 13:40

    Inflation will pay off our debt.
    Growing up I remember thinking that if I could just make $100 a day I’d have it made. Then I wished for $1000 a week.
    In 1964 I was getting $1.35 an hour. In 2004 it was up to $37 an hour with bonuses and stock options.
    My great grandchildren will make $1,000,000 a week.

    A trillion here a trillion there…

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2023-06-01 17:47

    Sell Texas? Maybe France would like to re-acquire the Louisiana Purchase?

  6. leslie 2023-06-04 04:55

    Gov. Kristi Noem’s funding source for a troop deployment to the U.S.-Mexico border [Texas summertime troop deployment] is the state’s Emergency and Disaster Fund, a revelation that caused a top-ranking legislator to criticize the plan and question its legality.

    Lee Schoenbeck, a Watertown Republican and president pro tempore of the state Senate, said securing the border is a federal responsibility. He said Noem is acting on a “political agenda unrelated to South Dakota issues” and violating the trust placed in the executive branch to spend the state’s money as intended.

    A Searchlight review of budget documents, public testimony, legislation and state laws pertaining to the fund revealed a common thread: references to the fund being intended for expenses within the state’s borders.

    According to the recommended budget Noem sent to legislators in December, the fund is for emergencies and disasters “in South Dakota.”

    Her 6/1 tweet:

    to assist @GregAbbott_TX in securing our border, joining 12 other Republican states.

    Under Biden, the border crisis is growing worse. Every state is now a border state.

    Our Guardsmen are best prepared to tackle this challenge. [includes pic of “our” governor dog whistling anti-Biden paramilitary resistance, and her own wanna-be soldier battle-dress, manipulating “our” SDNG and “our” border!]

    By the way, i note Former Montana Supreme Court Justice Jim Nelson referred to Republican efforts to reshape the judiciary as a “jihad,” a “fight to the death” and “a war perpetrated by the supermajority Freedom Caucus, the Legislature, the governor, and the attorney general.”
    by Arren Kimbel-Sannit
    03.21.2023 “No shouting. No name calling. Just award-winning local journalism for Montanans by Montanans”

    SD and MT are NOT “Republican” lost-cause states, after all.

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