Richard Hanna and the debt ceiling

Richard Hanna (R-NY24) hosted a community meeting in Norwich Thursday, June 30th:

This was pretty much the same thing Hanna told constituents from Tompkins and Cortland Counties who met with him on June 20th in his Auburn office, so he scores brownie points for consistency.

But I'm driven mad by the frequently-expressed (and related) notions that 1) there's only one way to skin a cat and 2) it's always a zero-sum game.  Where do people get the idea that if the debt ceiling isn't raised that the immediate and unavoidable consequence will be default on our debts?  If you were cut off by lenders (banks and credit card companies, say) from easy access to any more cash, would your first response be to stop repaying what you owed?  Good Lord, I hope not.  But if so, then we as a free nation are finished anyway because our moral compass will have gone completely haywire.

The debt ceiling argument is similar to the one we often hear locally, that if spending cuts need to be made at the state or local level, then the first things to go would be cops, firefighters, and teachers.  The first things?  You mean there's nothing else to cut?  Preposterous.

But, of course, these points may be moot, according to the senior senator from New York, Chuck U. Schumer:

On a conference call with reporters Friday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) acknowledged that President Obama may not need Congressional authorization to avoid a default on the national debt. But he noted, too, that the Constitutional debate on this question isn't ripe enough yet for Obama to take an end run around Congress, even if Republicans refuse to increase the national borrowing limit.

I asked Schumer, a lawyer, whether, in his view, the administration had the power to continue issuing new debt even if Congress fails to raise the debt limit. He acknowledged that the question's been discussed, but said the White House probably shouldn't go there just yet....


Steve Hayward at PowerLine on this very issue (and I'm including a longish excerpt here for the benefit of those of us who are not attorneys):

...With signs that Republicans are not going to roll over for half-measures, liberals are floating a trial balloon that the debt ceiling vote may be unnecessary because the ceiling itself is unconstitutional.  The New Republic is all over this story line, with at least three separate pieces over the last few days outlining the case.  See here, and here, and here, for starters.

There are several interesting wrinkles to this theme.  First, it rests on a novel interpretation of the clause of the 14th Amendment that reads, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”  Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, among others, says this passage implies that the U.S. cannot default on its sovereign debt obligations.  Perhaps this is true of existing debt obligations, but does this mean the Treasury can take on new debt obligations without being “authorized by law,” as the text of the Amendment reads?

Second, can the Executive branch declare on this question alone?  Maybe, but this will be the very kind of claim that normally sends liberals howling at the moon (see: Schlesinger, Arthur:The Imperial Presidency) when a Republican president tries something like it.

Lastly, the largest hypocrisy of this idea is the notion that no one will have standing to bring a lawsuit against the President if he indeed decides to ignore the debt ceiling.  The law professors who argue that Congress would lack standing to sue, and that no individual citizen could sue, because both lack a claim “direct harm,” may be narrowly correct.  And I’m sure the Supreme Court would also hate this case.  But I note that liberals are usually in favor of the most expansive view of standing, so that victim/claimants can get their day in court.  Few things get liberals more upset than when the Supreme Court tosses out a suit for lack of standing.  And the idea of “cumulative harm” at the heart of the expansive standing rules for environmental lawsuits would seem to apply just as well here: if the U.S. Treasury ignores the debt ceiling and goes on debasing the currency and eroding the economic future of the nation, it will harm’s every citizens financial future.
Bottom line: the liberals arguing that Obama can ignore the debt ceiling are practicing result-oriented jurisprudence again.  I know, not exactly a news flash.  But still. . .

But to get back to Mr. Hanna...I guess he wants to be in the "not all the Republicans" camp:

"Frankly, the Republicans here, not all the Republicans, but the extreme right of the Republican party are acting like ideological terrorists. They're literally willing to blow up our economy and the future of our nation to score a few political points. And I think this is the point where the President has to say 'look, we don't negotiate with ideological terrorists,'" MSNBC guest Sally Kohn said on the "Last Word."

Kohn was speaking about the fight over solving the debt crisis.

And over in the other house,

Conservative firebrand Sen. Jim DeMint has a message to fellow Republicans in Congress: If you support increasing the debt ceiling without first passing a balanced budget amendment and massive across-the-board spending cuts, you're gone -- destined to be swept out of Congress by a wave of voter anger...

Mr. Hanna said in my hearing that he doesn't care about getting re-elected. Of course, we've also gotten an e-mail from his office asking for a re-election campaign contribution.  Go figure. Well, I suppose we'll see.  In the meantime, Hanna's contact information can be found here.