And for all the accusations of gloating hurled at the White House today, I heard something very different from senior administration officials Thursday: an awareness that Obama doesn't have to get elected again, and that that has freed him to take politically risky positions in the service of dragging the American political system out of chaotic and destabilizing patterns. As senior administration officials portrayed it, Obama has been working throughout the course of this year to rightsize the presidency. He sought Congress's approval for a military strike in Syria, even though the national-security establishment thought he should have just acted. For the president, it was about creating a precedent for war-making powers. (What followed, I should note, didn't exactly go smoothly.)She gives the "senior administration officials" the customary anonymity.
Negotiations on the debt limit, however, would weaken the office of the presidency, weaken democracy, and virtually guarantee a default in 2014 or the next time the debt limit needs to be increased, according to White House thinking. By sanctioning the threat of default to get things through the political process that wouldn't get through on their merits, Obama would be helping to create a new procedural tactic in American democracy that could nullify the outcome of elections by giving fresh powers to minority factions. [my emphasis]
But I'm struck by what a cheeky spin it is. Obama's is the Presidency that treats leaks to the media about national security matters as espionage.
The Presidency that practices targeted assassinations.
That attacks countries with which the US is not at war with rockets fired by drones.
That has been taken the most drastic position on Executive secrecy of any President ever.
That went to an ill-considered war in Libya without Congressional authorization.
That has practiced massive domestic surveillance with little regard for law or the Constitution.
And now we're supposed to believe that President Obama has transmogrified into a scrupulous Constitutional scholar who wants to establish precedents for a limited view of Executive power? Please.
E.J. Dionne offered up a version of this silly spin on the PBS Newshour of 10/04/2013, also giving the spinners the customary anonymity:
But the thing that really strikes me, I was in the White House this week and talked to a number of top aides to President Obama, and I have never seen the administration be so resolute in saying, we cannot make any concessions on the issue of the shutdown or on the debt ceiling. We are happy to negotiate after those are settled.For the immediate future, i.e., this month, I hope this isn't a prelude to Obama declaring he won't invoke the 14th Amendment or mint a platinum coin to make a Republican refusal to raise the debt ceiling meaningless, because, hey, Obama is committed to limited Executive powers!
Obama is famous for liking to negotiate. Some of us are actually somewhat critical of him for being too eager to negotiate, but this time, they're saying there is a principle here. It's a constitutional monstrosity to use these threats to try to get something done, in this case repealing the Affordable Care Act, when the president won't sign it and they don't have a majority in the Senate. [my emphasis]
If he pulls that, it will be because he wants to use the debt ceiling like he did in 2011 to ram through his Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
But I hope the Obama White House has finally realized that the Republicans will jack them around in a major way if they agree to negotiate further over the continuing resolution or the debt ceiling.
President Principled Constitutionalist had better be ready with an effective alternative to Congress raising the debt ceiling if the Republicans balk, particularly given the hair-raising version the Treasury is putting out about what a default would mean.
Annie Lowrey of The New York Times elaborated some of the consequences in Defaulting on U.S bond obligations could cause 'mother of all financial crises' PBS Newshour 10/03/2013:
And so the issue is, it would be really bad if Treasury didn't manage to meet some of its payments to states or Social Security recipients, but they could basically say, you know what? We're going to be forced to pay you later. And that would be awful, but it probably wouldn't be catastrophic.
The issue with the bonds is that if Treasury didn't pay its bondholders back or didn't pay the coupon payments that it's required to make on some of those bonds, they would be declared in default and it would basically throw a lot of sand into the gears of the entire financial system, and you would have had a financial crisis, and not just a small financial crisis, but like the mother of all financial crises, because treasuries are so important to the functioning of financial markets.
But in that same report, we get this:
JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, the White House made a point today of saying the president on his own wouldn't raise the debt ceiling. They don't believe he has the authority to do that. I gather there's not much dispute about that.If that's what Obama's newfound Constitutional restraint is about, we could be in a heap o' trouble!
ANNIE LOWREY: No.
Some folks have said that the 14th Amendment grants him the authority to go ahead and just pay the bills, even though the debt limit hasn't been raised, let Treasury start issuing new debt. The administration has just outright rejected that approach. Other administrations in the future might not, but the Obama administration is not going to do that.
Tags: debt ceiling, obama administration