April 13th, 2011

To a Brit, the whole institution of a debt ceiling is a quaint absurdity. Borrowing is merely a logical consequence of the budget bills the legislature has already approved. Wer A sagt muss auch B sagen (Brecht). But there it is, like Black Rod, except that he is harmless.

An idle thought. Suppose the talking-bomb House Republican majority nevertheless refuses to raise the debt ceiling. The cuts required are huge. According to the Congressional Research Service:

… the federal government would have to eliminate all spending on discretionary programs, cut nearly 70% of outlays for mandatory programs, increase revenue collection by nearly two-thirds, or take some combination of those actions in the second half of FY2011 (April through September 30, 2011) in order to avoid increasing the debt limit.

Am I right in thinking this: from the moment the ceiling is reached, and net new borrowing becomes impossible, the entire appropriation law is moot, any riders the House attaches to explain its abdication of budgetary responsibility are of no effect, the distinction between mandatory and discretionary spending collapses, and the executive acquires untrammelled discretion to spend the funds that come in (still within the appropriation limits). How should the Administration allocate the funds that do come in?

My modest proposal: take the USPS list of zipcodes and map against the House constituencies. Where the representatives vote to raise the debt ceiling, payments are sent out up to the funds available. Where the representatives treasonably vote to destroy the faith and credit of the United States, the cheques don’t get sent out. Full stop. You like small government? Enjoy the Norquist bathtub.

President Obama, your Rockefeller toaster oven, will never do this, or threaten to do so. But ask yourself: what would LBJ or Lincoln have done?

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