Eric Posner Argues for Statute to Solve Debt Ceiling Problem Once and for All
John Boehner announced to House Republicans today that he would, indeed, bring a “clean” debt-ceiling bill to a vote, eliminating the prospect of another political stand-off over whether or not the country will default on its debts. For now. Congress and the executive deadlocked on raising the debt ceiling back in 2011. Then again in October of last year. And, for all the good feelings about this latest move away from the brink, they may well do so again. Which is why Congress and the White House ought to use this respite to adopt a change that will put an end to debt ceiling fights for good.
Recently, several members of Congress, including Representative Mike Honda and Senators Barbara Boxer, Chuck Schumer, and Mazie Hirono, introduced legislation to do just that. The bills provide that when the national debt comes within $100 billion of the ceiling, the president may send a notification to Congress to that effect. Congress then would have a limited period of time during which it may issue a joint resolution that forbids borrowing above the debt ceiling. If Congress fails to pass such a resolution, or does but it is vetoed, Treasury may borrow beyond the debt ceiling. The bills make sense, and Congress should act on them as soon as possible.
Under the bills, Congress retains its constitutionally mandated power of the purse. It can create or destroy any programs it wants; it can cut funding to existing programs. The only effect of the bill is to restrict the power of Congress to cause the United States to default on its debts.