Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other top Democrats are putting new pressure on the White House to circumvent Congress to boost the nation’s debt ceiling if no bipartisan agreement can be reached.
In a strongly worded letter to President Barack Obama, Reid and his leadership team argue that failing to raise the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling would threaten the full faith and credit of the United States. Reid and Sens. Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer and Patty Murray asserted that Obama “must make clear that you will never allow our nation’s economy and reputation to be held hostage.”
“In the event that Republicans make good on their threat by failing to act, or by moving unilaterally to pass a debt limit extension only as part of an unbalanced or unreasonable legislation, we believe you must be willing to take any lawful steps to ensure that America does not break its promises and trigger a global economic crisis — without congressional approval, if necessary,” the Friday letter to Obama says.
It should go without saying that not only does Harry Reid not have the power to grant the executive branch permission to bypass the legislature, but neither does Congress. Short of Congress’s abolishing the debt ceiling and making it clear in that legislation that the president has the authority to deal with borrowing henceforth — this it could do — no letter written by anybody on any subject can change the fact that current law requires congressional action if the debt ceiling is to be raised. It is one thing to watch economically minded progressive journalists beclown themselves contriving one way after another for the president to avoid the strictures of the Constitution, but quite another for the Senate majority leader — a man who has taken an oath to uphold the law — to do it. As I wrote earlier in the week:
It is Congress’s job to oversee economic policy, and the House’s in particular. Regardless of whether it is “good” policy or not, the House of Representatives is wholly within its rights to refuse to raise the debt ceiling if it so wishes. To submit that Congress has the right to raise the debt ceiling but that to refuse to do so would be “a step too far” is to grant that Congress does not actually enjoy power over the issue at all, but is instead just a bystander armed with a rubber stamp. If this were true, it would undermine the American constitutional order, which is of course exactly what those making asinine (the platinum coin) or downright illegal (fourteenth amendment) suggestions wish to do. Their view is that this issue is just too important to leave to our system of government, so the president — or anyone – must step in and “do the right thing.”
However “insane” you think it would be for Congress to refuse to raise the debt ceiling, it is Congress’s right to be that “insane.” Congress, bluntly, can be as insane as it wishes. Harry Reid, who has been loaned powers that he cannot give away, is in no position to alter that. In his New York Times column this morning, Paul Krugman argued that while unilateral presidential action would be “undignified,” it would be better than letting “a financial and Constitutional crisis explode.” That progressives find this so hard to grasp is telling: There could be few things better guaranteed to usher in a constitutional crisis than for the executive branch simply to declare an issue that has enjoyed this amount of publicity as too important for Congress. President Obama should politely thank Harry Reid for his letter, and then quietly bury it under the White House lawn.