Visual irony of the day

Via the Economist:

How the debt ceiling deal could increase the deficit

Quite easily.  Floyd Norris in economix:

In fact, this deal could manage to do the exact opposite of what it promises — raise the deficit.

If that happens, it will be because a major determinant of tax revenue is the health of the economy. Profits and growth bring revenues. This could damage the economy enough to send tax receipts down again. Although you never would have guessed it from the rhetoric, tax receipts are at the lowest level in years, as a percentage of gross domestic product. Get a healthy economy and tax revenues rise while a lot of spending, on such things as unemployment benefits, goes away.

Also, some nice critique of the Tea Party nuts running the show in the GOP:

What this has shown is that the Republican Congressional leadership is terrified of the Tea Party and of people like Sarah Palin, who hinted she would support a primary challenge to any Republican who voted to raise the debt ceiling. The leadership knew that not raising the ceiling was unthinkable, but many of the members did not.

What has been proved by this is that there are a substantial number of members of Congress who basically are opposed to the government and welcome anything that would keep it from functioning. [emphasis mine] If the Republican leadership again grants them veto power over anything, some of them will think that forcing huge spending cuts at the end of 2012 will have been a triumph, no matter what it does to the economy or to Americans less well off than themselves.

Bingo.  It’s just crazy.  Republicans get in office and do all they can to make government not work => people hate/distrust government => Republicans win elections claiming that they are the party that understands that government doesn’t work and cannot be trusted.

Debt ceiling lessons

I’ve reads lots of great stuff on the debt ceiling today from the usual cast of suspects and I’m too lazy to link to all of them.  Suffice it to say, that thoughts below are very strongly influenced by Klein, Yglesias, Drum, Krugman, and Steve Benen— who had a great series of posts this morning).

1) Hostage taking works.  The Republicans showed an ahistorical willingness to do what they themselves knew was major damage to the American economy.  Obama got rolled.  He’s shown himself to be a horrible negotiator, but let’s not forget where the ultimate blame lies.

2) Everything is different now.  Maybe.  Damn, if this hostage taking strategy hasn’t proven effective.  No reason to think the Republicans shouldn’t keep using it against Obama every chance they get.  Krugman’s always been an Obama skeptic, so I read his criticisms of Obama with a grain of salt, but reading this excellent column and thinking about Krugman’s strong support for HRC, I couldn’t but help thinking things would’ve played out better if she were president.  Regardless, I think we can expect this as the modus operandi of Congressional Republicans for as long as Obama as president

3) I’ve really come to hate what I see as Obama’s pathological obsession as being viewed as a great compromiser.  When someone’s got a loved one kidnapped, you don’t say, “I made a great deal with the terrorists and got my son back for only $100,000!”  You say, “unfortunately, the only choice I had to protect human life was to pay $100,000.  We were extorted by bad and crazy people, but we really had no other reasonable options.”  Alas, instead (via Brad Delong), we get this:

The White House says:

Office of the Press Secretary


July 31, 2011


The debt deal announced today is a victory for bipartisan compromise, for the economy and for the American people…

Damn it– it’s none of these!  Sure, Obama cannot just come out there and say, “I totally misuderestimated just how loony and uncompromising the Congressional GOP is, and as a result I got totally rolled.”  But, can’t he just admit to being an unwilling partner taking the actions necessary to try and save the economy from hostage takers?

4) Lots of “winners and losers” stuff.  Short version: Winners: Tea Party extremists and Mitch McConnell.  Losers: everyone else in this country.

5) Obama can do a lot to re-earn my respect if he stands firm on letting Bush tax cuts actually expire next year, but I have less confidence than ever that he’ll be willing to call the GOP’s bluff on that (they will let all the tax cuts expire in order to protect the tax cuts for high earners).

The Constitutional option

So, its pretty clear that Obama is not interested in invoking the 14th amendment option.  Interestingly, he has not been shy about arguing to keep most of the Bush administration’s massive expansions of presidential power.  In fact, that’s one area where he has been particularly disappointing to liberals.  But, not here.  Nonetheless, Jeffrey Rosen has a nice piece in TNR about how he would almost assuredly win legally (whether a political win or not, I think is very much up for debate) by invoking the 14th amendment to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling.  Even though this interpretation of the 14th amendment is controversial and far from clear at best, as Bush demonstrated, that’s still enough to carry the day legally more often than not.  Here’s the key points:

As Matthew Zeitlin has argued in TNR, if Obama invoked the Fourteenth Amendment to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally, the most likely outcome is that the Supreme Court would refuse to hear the case. The conservative justices have long required clear evidence of legal “standing” before opening the courthouse door—something they showed in their recent 5-4 decision rejecting a taxpayer’s challenge to an Arizona school vouchers program—and it’s hard to imagine who could establish enough of a legal injury to establish standing in this case…

In addition to their concerns about legal standing, the conservative justices have also, in other cases, said that the courts should refuse to hear cases that raise “political questions”—in other words, cases that raise the possibility of “embarrassment from multifarious pronouncements” by the president, Congress, and the Supreme Court on the same legal issue…

So let’s imagine, for the sake of argument, that the Roberts Court agreed to hear the case of Obama v. Boehner and decide it on the merits. How would the justices rule?

It seems a safe bet that all four liberal justices would rule for Obama. There’s a strong argument that Congress’s refusal to raise the debt ceiling falls within the spirit, if not the letter, of the paradigm case that the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment were concerned about…

What about the conservative justices? Here the divisions in the conservative ranks might become relevant…

On the other hand, Roberts, Alito, and Scalia, if they remain true to their judicial philosophies, should reject this argument and rule for Obama, not Congress. All three have devoted their careers to defending a broad vision of executive power, and they might even embrace the argument that Obama doesn’t need to rely on the Fourteenth Amendment; instead, he can raise the debt ceiling on his own, by invoking what Eric Posner and Adrian Vermeule have called“his paramount duty to ward off serious threats to the constitutional and economic system.” In addition, the nationalistic instincts of the three pro-executive justices have led them to be consistently sympathetic to business interests, who in this case might support any presidential action that avoids default.

All this suggests that if the justices are true to their judicial philosophies, either they wouldn’t hear the case of Obama v. Boehner or, if they did, at least seven justices would vote for Obama. If, by contrast, the justices ignore their judicial philosophies and vote on party lines, Obama could lose 5-4. But the possibility of a lopsided victory should certainly embolden a constitutionally confident president to ignore the cramped advice of his lawyers and to throw down the gauntlet.

As Bill Clinton, another former professor of constitutional law, recently declared, if he were president, he would invoke the Fourteenth Amendment to raise the debt ceiling “without hesitation, and force the courts to stop me.” There’s a good chance they wouldn’t.

No legal scholar, I, but that argument strikes me as pretty spot-on throughout.  A lot of people have argued that Obama would face a huge political cost for doing this, but I’m really not so sure.  For one, I think the House would almost surely impeach him, and much like with Clinton, I think that would ultimately work to Obama’s benefit.

Of course, in all likelihood we’ll never know.  But I sure wish Obama had shown a willingness to at least go down this road.

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