Listen To You Tell Me Texas Friday 10/9/15
It’s not supposed to work like this.
Think of the federal debt ceiling as the credit limit on your MasterCard — the amount above which you cannot spend. On March 15 of this year, Congress raised that limit by $901 billion — putting the federal debt limit at $18.1 trillion.
We’ve now gone through that $901 billion. The country hits the $18.1 trillion debt limit on November 5, less than a month from now.
After that, the federal government will have no more money in the checking account and no available credit for cash advances on the MasterCard. The government will be unable to pay its bills.
Thus, John Boehner, the soon to be ex-Speaker of the House (but now not as soon as we thought), is making it his last business to corral his Republican caucus to get a bill passed that will again raise the debt ceiling – the seventh such raising on Boehner’s watch. Many Republican House members are balking by demanding spending cuts, the elimination of wasteful and otherwise odious federal programs, regulatory relief, re-prioritization of discretionary spending and increases in military spending. In other words, they’re keeping the promises they made when they ran for office.
That tension within the Republican Congressional caucus is leading to fears of another government “shutdown.” Fearful that the resulting demagoguery will go hard against Republicans in a crucial election year, Boehner is working feverishly to get something done that Obama will sign.
This is not how the country is supposed to run. We keep hitting the debt limit and therefore keep having these government shutdown dramas because the Congress has stopped functioning as it should as keeper of the purse.
The president has gained the upper hand in every debt ceiling debate because Congress has stopped appropriating money on a department-by-department basis through individual appropriations bills. Instead, the process has devolved into passing “omnibus spending bills” and “continuing resolutions” that fund the government via the appropriation of one big quivering pile of money – much of which the Treasury must then borrow.
The result is a de facto abdication of Congress’s power of the purse, giving the president the upper hand every time the debt ceiling has to be raised.
Pass individual appropriations bills one by one and if the president doesn’t like them, he’ll have to veto them one by one. Two or three vetoes in, he looks like the bad guy.
But pass an all-or-nothing, take-it-or-leave-it CR or omnibus spending bill and the president immediately has leverage. Any little provision that he doesn’t like and he can threaten a veto that will shut the government down (not that it ever really shuts down). It’s a demagogic tactic that has benefitted Democrats at the expense of Republicans every time.
The result of this congressional malpractice has been a near doubling of the national debt in seven years.
It’s not supposed to work like this. At $18.1 trillion in debt and still growing, it can’t work like this for much longer.