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Robert Reich: Republican Crazy Talk About the Debt Ceiling

October 10, 2013

A crazy person with a bomb is much scarier than someone holding a bomb who looks and acts reasonable.

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Image from Flickr via jaffera

By Robert Reich
By arrangement with Robert Reich

“I would dispel the rumor that is going around that you hear on every newscast, that if we don’t raise the debt ceiling, we will default on our debt,” says Sen.Tom Coburn, R-Okla. “We won’t. We’ll continue to pay our interest.”

This is crazy talk. While the Treasury Department could prioritize interest payments after October 17th—the day the Treasury Department says it no longer has legal authority to pay the nation’s debts—and not pay Social Security and Medicare, this would buy a few days at most.

Meanwhile, interest rates will soar, stock prices will plummet, the global economy will begin spiraling downward, and millions of Americans wouldn’t receive their Social Security and Medicare.

So why are Republicans talking like this? Because they want to sound as if they’re willing to blow up the economy if they don’t get their way. A crazy person with a bomb is much scarier than someone holding a bomb who looks and acts reasonable. Sounding crazy is part of the Republican bargaining strategy.

But the President and the Democrats must not give in.

If Republicans disagree, let them try to impeach the President.

If we get to October 17th and the Republicans are still holding the nation hostage, the President has only one option: He must ignore the debt ceiling and order the Treasury to continue to pay all the nation’s bills.

He should rely on Section four of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which says the “validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law… shall not be questioned.” The debt itself is clearly “authorized by law” because it’s the direct result of laws authorizing the U.S. to spend and to tax. The showdown over the debt ceiling is over payment of the debt, not the legality of the debt itself. Arguably, what the Constitution requires trumps any law governing the debt-ceiling.

If Republicans disagree, let them try to impeach the President. Their polls are already dropping. The latest Washington Post-ABC poll shows 70 percent of the public disapproving of their tactics (65 percent disapproved before the shutdown), while the President’s disapproval remains at 51 percent. An attempted impeachment would reveal to the public just how crazy Republicans have become.

Robert B. Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future and The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism. His latest, Beyond Outrage: Expanded Edition: What has gone wrong with our economy and our democracy, and how to fix it, is now out in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. His new film, “Inequality for All,” was released on September 27.

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