Commentary

Why I Changed My Mind on the Debt Limit

THE NEW YORK TIMES, Laurence H. Tribe, May 9, 2023 

The right question is whether Congress — after passing the spending bills that created these debts in the first place — can invoke an arbitrary dollar limit to force the president and his administration to do its bidding.

At this moment, at the White House as well as the Departments of Treasury and Justice, officials are debating a legal theory that previous presidents and any number of legal experts — including me — ruled out in 2011, when the Obama administration confronted a default.

The theory builds on Section 4 of the 14th Amendment to argue that Congress, without realizing it, set itself on a path that would violate the Constitution when, in 1917, it capped the size of the federal debt. Over the years, Congress has raised the debt ceiling scores of times, most recently two years ago, when it set the cap at $31.4 trillion. We hit that amount on Jan. 19 and are being told that the “extraordinary measures” Treasury has available to get around it are about to run out. When that happens, all hell will break loose.

Taking advantage of that prospect, congressional Republicans are threatening to do nothing unless the administration agrees to slash lots of government programs that their party has had in its sights. If the president caves in to their demands, they will agree to raise the cap — until this crisis occurs again. Then, they will surely pursue the same game of chicken or, maybe more accurately, Russian roulette. It’s a complicated situation, but a solution is staring us in the face.

Read More: THE NEW YORK TIMES