National Default on the National Debt

President Barack Obama and his Senators keep saying that House RepublicansCongress must raise the debt ceiling or the US will go into default.  The latest example of this claim came when Obama, through his White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney, said in response to the idea that the administration could simply mint a $1 trillion coin and then spend that,

There are only two options to deal with the debt limit: Congress can pay its bills or it can fail to act and put the nation into default[.]

Here’s what the Constitution says on the matter (you might recall that bit of paper—a document that Progressives insist ought to be scrapped or that already is useless and non-binding; maybe its inconvenient limits on government are why).  From Article I, Section 8, in relevant part:

The Congress shall have Power…to pay the Debts…;

To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

Thus only the Congress can borrow—or create the conditions for paying what it has borrowed.  The President, as with all laws (nearly all of which, by the way, have his signature on them—he’s actively agreed with them, except in those very rare cases where his veto has been overridden), has only to execute them—here, to spend the money authorized, to collect the taxes authorized, to borrow according to the Congress’ budget and borrowing limit.  He’s Constitutionally, and by his oath of office, required to faithfully execute those laws.

(Incidentally, a later clause in that Section 8 says this:

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof….

Thus, only Congress can mint a $1 trillion coin, not Treasury.)

The 14th Amendment, which some Progressives like to cite as a means for Obama to bypass Congress on the national debt, says in relevant part:

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.

Notice that confusing part—it being more than 100 years old—”authorized by law.”  The clause not only says that the US’ debt must be paid—no getting around that—but the only debt that must be paid is that authorized by law—that budget thing (from an even older and apparently even more confusing part of the Constitution), which must be passed by Congress and signed by the President or his veto overridden.  The president cannot (not may not—cannot) create debt on his own recognizance.

On the first part above, then, Obama has it right—Congress can agree to continue spending and borrowing, or it can decide not to act (or anywhere between the two extremes: cut spending enough to fit it into current revenues, thereby eliminating the deficit and stopping the growth in borrowing altogether, or cut spending to fit within projected revenues and raise the debt ceiling somewhat, with a view to gradually reducing spending, eliminating the deficit over time, and ultimately stopping the growth in borrowing altogether, for example).

What are the practicalities of the matter?  Say the debt ceiling is not raised; what results?

The interest on our current national debt (some $16+ trillion at the end of 2012, an explosion of 60% in Obama’s first four years) ran to $220 billion.  Total revenue collected from various tax sources (including payroll taxes for Social Security, et al.,) by the Federal government was $2.5 trillion—a shade over 10x those interest payments.

In short, there is no risk of default from Congressional inaction.  There is plenty of money with which to pay the interest, thereby keeping our debt current and not in default.  There’s plenty of money with which to roll existing debt that’s coming due—essentially to refinance by paying off that old debt with new borrowing—within the current debt ceiling.  This is the same as us refinancing our homes, which we must do within our own debt ceilings, values our lenders determine based on our credit rating.  There’s even plenty of money with which to begin in aggregate paying down that debt, reducing it below those $16 trillion, and to reduce it further in subsequent years.

Thus, if Congress declines to raise the debt ceiling at all, there would be spending cuts, but no default.  Federal spending in 2012 ran to $3.7 trillion, rather more than those $2.5 trillion in collections.  Progressive (and Conservative) favored programs would be drastically curtailed.  Welfare programs like food stamps, subsidies for “green” energy companies, farm price supports, and the like would be severely curtailed.  Entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid transfers to the States would be greatly circumscribed.  Withal, no default, and not even very many existing programs eliminated.

However, if Obama and his Senators truly are concerned about “not paying for our spending on the backs of our seniors and the middle class” (and the poor—that group these Progressives have been ignoring right along), they’ll get serious about spending cuts, the deficit, and the debt.  The cuts then could occur in a deliberate, controlled manner, across programs about which Conservatives and Progressives compromise on curtailing.

Obama and his Senators know what the Constitutionally mandated priorities are.  They simply are lying when they make their claim of debt default, and the NLMSM are complicit in the claim’s spread.  What these Progressives really mean is that, absent a debt ceiling increase, they will default on their vote buying promises.  And that terrifies them, since among those to whom they “owe” their vig are unions.

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