May 16, 2023
Like everyone else, I have been following the negotiations between the White House and House Republicans over the debt ceiling. I know that many of my comrades are worried that Biden is being played and will have to give up the store to save the economy. Paul Krugman laid out this case in his column today.
I understand their concerns, but I remain an optimist on this. First, Biden has been around the block on this one more than anyone. He may have been expecting respectable types to act a bit more respectable and lean on the Republicans to reach a deal.
But Biden also knows that these respectable types are totally willing to deal with Donald Trump, a vicious anti-Semite and racist who has open contempt for American democracy and the rule of law. The elites in the media and the business community will not stick their necks out for the good of the country. He had every reason to expect them to take the cautious route and do the “both sides” routine we see them doing now.
Surely Biden recognized this was a real possibility and was prepared for it. What does that mean? In my view, it means that after engaging in negotiations with Republicans, who are asking for absurd concessions based on their four-seat advantage in one house of Congress, he says that he will spend the money Congress told him to spend, whether or not this means crashing the debt ceiling.
I don’t have any legal analysis to add to the work of Lawrence Tribe and others. I do have to say that I find it delicious that the wording on the debt in the 14th Amendment was put there to deal with pretty much exactly the situation we face today: a gang of former confederates gain control of Congress and look to wreck the economy to avenge their defeat in the Civil War.
So, is Biden also thinking of invoking the 14th Amendment and saying that the government is not constrained by Republican efforts to default on the debt? I can’t say, and I also can’t say what the Republican Supreme Court will do.
But many of us have underestimated Biden before. He managed to get an amazing amount of important legislation through a 50-50 Senate and with only a narrow Democratic majority in the House. It doesn’t seem likely he would walk into negotiations with a Republican Speaker indebted to the party’s biggest loons without a backup plan.
I guess we will know the answer to this one soon enough.