Last week “Mr. Cool” lost his cool. Barack Obama, frustrated at his inability to strike a deal with Republicans in Congress on raising the debt ceiling, stormed out of a meeting saying, “enough is enough.” As of today, the negotiations are in limbo.
I’m sure you’ve been following this story. Leaders in both political parties say that if the debt ceiling (the federal government’s borrowing limit) is not raised by August 2, 2011, the government supposedly will run out of money and will default on its obligations. This, the Establishment says, will trigger a global economic meltdown.
(You may recall this same “sky is falling” rhetoric was used back in September 2008 when former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was running around Congress asking for a blank check for the bailouts and then forcing banks to “take the money or else.”)
At any rate, while leaders in both parties say they need to raise the debt ceiling they have very different ideas on the type of deal they’d be willing to strike.
Here’s how things shake out: Some Republicans are willing to raise the debt ceiling and allow more borrowing, but only if Democrats make significant cuts to the bloated federal budget without raising taxes that would kill jobs and harm an already limping economy. Obama has indicated that he’s willing to nibble around the edges on government spending, but will not sign onto any deal that does not include tax increases.
And so here we are. No deal. (Most Americans don’t want the debt ceiling raised at all, but their views don’t seem to count much here in Washington. Check out this Gallup poll.)
Given all the discussion about what might happen if the debt ceiling is not raised, we thought it would be interesting to learn exactly what the Obama administration intends to do if they can’t borrow money anymore. For instance, will it, as Obama has threatened, withhold Social Security checks?
So on June 6, 2011, Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Bureau of Public Debt (BPD) seeking an answer to a very simple question: What is the Obama administration prepared to do if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling?
But how did the Obama administration respond to our request? None of your business! Out of 172 pages of records the BPD found responsive, they released a grand total of 17 unhelpful pages. (Here’s the letter from the BPD. And here’s a link to the documents.)
Tea Party favorite Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN), also a candidate for the Republican nomination for president, suggested Wednesday that Obama is merely using scare tactics to continue his spending spree and that we can meet our essential obligations without a debt ceiling increase. Of course, we don’t know whether Bachmann or Obama is right because the Obama administration is stonewalling the release of these important debt ceiling documents.
This secrecy reveals that the Obama administration has something to hide about what its plans are in the event a debt deal is not passed into law by August 2.
Adding some doubt as to the veracity of the Treasury’s projections, one of the documents turned over to Judicial Watch is an April 4, 2011, letter from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in which Geithner tells Reid, “The Treasury Department now projects that the debt limit will be reached no later than May 16, 2011.” Of course, May 16 came and went with no default and no global meltdown. (A January 6 letter also included in the documents suggests that the debt ceiling could be reached as early as March 31, 2011, which also came and went without incident.)
The secrecy continues as President Obama and congressional leaders meet behind closed doors to try to hatch a deal that affects nearly $50 trillion (ten years of current federal outlays) of your money. This whole process is an affront to accountability, transparency and the rule of law. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has had enough of the whole mess and called the process “disgusting.” I agree wholeheartedly. Indeed, at this point I can think of no good reason to prevent C-SPAN from covering these debt “negotiations.” (Incredibly, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) seems to think there are too many people at the negotiating table!)
I read with interest a Wall Street Journal piece yesterday by scholar Michael W. McConnell, who pointed out that this process is contrary to law and could have been avoided if our budget law had been followed by Obama and the U.S. Senate. He writes:
It is insane to think that tax and spending proposals of this complexity can be negotiated at this level of generality and put into statutory language in a matter of weeks. Didn’t the health-care fiasco teach us anything about the importance of transparent and responsible legislative process?
Wise or foolish, this budgetary game of chicken is contrary to law. In 1974, Congress enacted the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act, which sets specific deadlines and procedures for raising revenue, setting spending priorities, and adjusting the debt limit–all in the sunshine of public scrutiny…
Let’s hash out our nation’s budget and debt issues in the light of day!