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Friday, July 22, 2011

Could Obama act unilaterally? (UPDATE: Nancy sells us out)

That's what Eric Posner and Adrian Vermeule argue in the NYT:
Our argument is not based on some obscure provision of the 14th amendment, but on the necessities of state, and on the president’s role as the ultimate guardian of the constitutional order, charged with taking care that the laws be faithfully executed.

When Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War, he said that it was necessary to violate one law, lest all the laws but one fall into ruin. So too here...
A deadlocked Congress has become incapable of acting consistently; it commits to entitlements it will not reduce, appropriates funds it does not have, borrows money it cannot repay and then imposes a debt ceiling it will not raise.
The 14th Amendment is a red herring, however; even if its debt provision did not exist, the president would derive authority from his paramount duty to ward off serious threats to the constitutional and economic system.
Of course, we all recognize Presidential authority to enact extreme measures after an event universally recognized to be an emergency. A nuclear explosion in a major city would suffice; so might an unprecedented natural disaster.

But could he take such actions to resolve an economic emergency? FDR threatened to do so (as the editorialists note) but did not, in fact, assume that authority. So far, the present crisis does not match the challenge that Roosevelt faced.

I think that Obama might have the political capital to act unilaterally if and only if...

1. Negotiations break down.

2. Social Security checks stop coming.

3. The rating agencies downgrade (or seriously threaten to downgrade) the United States.

4. Blame for the mess accrues to tea partiers who refuse to raise taxes. The public must be made to understand that the libertarians want to get rid of Social Security and Medicare in order to give that money to the capitalists -- who, in Randroid mythology, are the only real human beings. Obama must force the question: "Is that outcome what you really want?"

I don't think Obama will let matters reach that point. Fighting for the disempowered? Taking enormous political risk to help the helpless? Not Obama's style.

UPDATE: Nancy Pelosi has sold us out, signalling acceptance of steep cuts with no insistence on removing Dubya's tax cuts for the rich. This move puts her to the right of Grover freakin' Norquist.

Back to our regularly scheduled post...

David Atkins at Digby has looked into his crystal ball, and has come away with this persuasive vision of things to come:
Eventually, as with the TARP vote, the market will freak out. There will be a big plunge, leading to mass panic on Capitol Hill. At that point, enough House GOP yokels and wavering Democrats will come out of their camps to unite behind a plan involving massive cuts, the promise of phantom future revenues that everyone knows won't happen, and some minor cuts to "entitlement programs" that Democrats might think are livable.

And everyone will breathe a big sigh of relief, both camps will declare victory and go home happy. Everyone, of course, but the American people getting screwed.
In the meantime, note these words from Paul Krugman:
The disappearance of unemployment from elite policy discourse and its replacement by deficit panic has been truly remarkable. It’s not a response to public opinion. In a recent CBS News/New York Times poll, 53 percent of the public named the economy and jobs as the most important problem we face, while only 7 percent named the deficit. Nor is it a response to market pressure. Interest rates on U.S. debt remain near historic lows.

Yet the conversations in Washington and Brussels are all about spending cuts
Even Krugman may not understand the full import of this. Polls show that the people support higher taxes on the wealthy and strong measures to increase employment. Polls show that nobody really cares about the national debt at this time. Nevertheless, all focus is on the deficit. If the politicians find it politically impossible to enact the will of the people, do we have a democracy?

If the majority of the people care more about jobs than about the deficit, then why, in 2010, did they vote for congressfolk who care more about the deficit than about jobs? Why don't more members of the electorate act in their own best interests?
This, of course, assumes that he really wants to do something - which would be, as the lawyers say, assuming facts not in evidence.

I think it's really simpler than this.

The debt limit was implicitly repealed by the 2011 budget.

The current debt ceiling was set by Congress at the end of 2009. Since it was passed, Congress has passed a budget which authorizes spending for the current fiscal year. The two are in conflict. Obviously the later act of Congress (GFY 2011 budget) must supersede the earlier where there is a conflict.

The money has been appropriated as required by law. Obama should spend it.
No emergency powers required, just "taking care that the laws (i.e. the GFY 2011 appropriation bill) be faithfully executed" exactly as the Constitution requires.
If the politicians find it politically impossible to enact the will of the people, do we have a democracy?

They don't find it "politically impossible", they find it "unimportant". It's not that they can't, they simply won't.
(unrelated, take it or leave it)
-> Jul 19, 2011 10:16 Moscow Time
"Norway to support Palestinians – Norwegian FM"
I wonder, what "seixon" is doing these days ... (->)
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