That Was Then, This Is Now: Debt Limit Edition

Yesterday four Democratic senators–Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, Patty Murray and Chuck Schumer–wrote a letter to President Obama urging him to take all “lawful steps” to increase the debt limit, with or without the Republicans. Byron York points out that all four of these Democrats voted against increasing the debt limit in 2006. At that time, the Democrats pretended to be outraged by the deficits of the Bush administration, which were less than one-half the size of the deficits the Democrats have run up under Obama. In 2006–ancient history, apparently–the Democrats had no concern about the parade of horribles they are now trotting out.

The senators wrote:

As you know, Republican leaders are threatening to bring on an economic catastrophe unless Democrats make deep cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

This is untrue, unfortunately.

Defaulting on America’s legal obligations would undermine the American economy and spread global economic havoc.

Why are they talking about default? Default is constitutionally prohibited by the 14th Amendment. The federal government’s cash flow is more than ample to pay all interest on the national debt and to retire bonds as they mature. Other spending would have to be cut, to be sure; but default will not, and cannot, happen.

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 unbalanced or unreasonable legislation….

The senators telegraph here what they are really afraid of: the House may pass legislation that extends the debt limit along with spending cuts–cuts that will no doubt seem reasonable, not “unreasonable” or “unbalanced,” to voters. I believed that the Republicans wouldn’t be able to get much in exchange for increasing the debt limit because the threat not to do so lacks credibility, but this letter suggests that the Democrats are more worried than I thought.

…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.

This is a puzzler. What “lawful steps” could Obama take “without Congressional approval” that would permit racking up more debt? Article I of the Constitution gives Congress the exclusive “Power…To borrow Money on the credit of the United States.” Obama has no such authority. Are the senators urging Obama to violate the Constitution? Or perhaps to pursue the trillion-dollar platinum coin gambit? It is impossible to say.

For all these reasons, we support your view that extension of the debt limit is not something for which Democrats should have to negotiate.

Sure. They want it for nothing, just like Obama wanted tax increases for nothing. The Dems say they are willing to negotiate, they just don’t want the GOP to have any bargaining power:

At the same time, as a separate matter, we agree about the importance of developing a broad, bipartisan agreement on fiscal policy that strengthens our economy and reduces our long-term budget deficit.

I think the strategy is to wait until the Democrats take the House, and then strike a “broad, bipartisan agreement” on higher taxes and spending. In the meantime, the Democrats intend to obstruct any change whatsoever in our rapidly-deteriorating fiscal landscape.

As you have said, any such agreement must treat all Americans fairly and include not just responsible spending cuts…

Those would be cuts to the defense budget.

…but additional revenue from the wealthy and the elimination of wasteful tax breaks.

But wait! Didn’t Obama just get higher income and investment taxes on everyone earning over $250,000, precisely the higher taxes on the “rich” he has always said he wanted? The Democrats’ greed is never satisfied.

We therefore hope that you will continue to insist that the entire budget be on the table, and that any agreement be fully balanced and fair.

It would be a wonderful thing if the entire budget were on the table, but that isn’t what the Democrats have in mind. Still, the Democrats’ evident concern about the debt limit, manifested not just by this letter but by the trillion-dollar coin and other half-baked ideas that are being taken seriously by Democrats, suggests that more of the budget might be on the table than we once thought possible.