April 15th, 2011: Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act
February 4th, 2010: Resolution to Increase the Statutory Limit on the Public Debt
Don't tell me you respect the Constitutional authority of Congress and the Constitutional limits on the presidency if you think that the president can violate a more recent act of Congress in order to fulfill an older act of Congress.
There are two other options, of course. The tax code is older than the debt ceiling and we can always default on our debts to give more room for growth in current debts.
The second option is unconstitutional as a result of the 14th amendment to the Constitution.
The first option I suppose you could make a case for. The president could take it upon himself to levy taxes without the consent of the governed. Historically, though, the American people have frowned on this. And history aside, the raising of revenue has to originate in the House. One can consider a piece of legislation trumped or rendered moot by more recent leigslation, but you can't invent new legislation - i.e. - levy new taxes.
Justice John Marshall Harlan II presciently warned that “the Constitution is not a panacea for every blot upon the public welfare,” and we do have a quandary here. Congress, in passing laws it absolutely has the authority to pass, has attempted to repeal the laws of arithmetic (which while it may or may not have the Constitutional authority to repeal it certainly doesn't have the ability to repeal). The president's job is to execute Congress's laws, but he can't execute one without violating another. So the task of execution becomes a task of reconciliation of conflicting legislation - he can't execute the laws if he doesn't make some attempt at reconciling them. And the constitutional and logical option seems to me to be (1.) not raise taxation without represenative assent - Article 1 Section 8 rules this unconstitutional, (2.) not default on public debts - Amendment 14 rules this unconstitutional, and (3.) recognize more recent legislation as the will of the Congress over older legislation which they for all intents and purposes have revised.
I personally see no Constitutional, logical, or chronological reason for violating (1.) or (2.) or for flipping (3.) around.
UPDATE: The other option is asset sales. This is good, but there are limits to it, of course. The appropriations bills include money to do things like, say, operate federal parks, lands and buildings. It's unclear to me how you're not violating those laws with a lot of asset sales. Certainly we could do some and probably should do some. I'm guessing that won't close the gap.
UPDATE 2: Brad DeLong links this post, but let me make something clear - I don't like the idea of asset sales and I don't think it's a solution - but I can see the legal/Constitutional argument that we ought not violate the laws of Congress until we exhaust that option. It's still obviously a non-starter. Once you start getting rid of too many assets, again you're running into Congressional legislation ordering you to make use of those assets (i.e. - you can't sell off park land if Congress directs you to staff and run the park you're trying to sell!). I do like Brad's idea, which is something that's been floating around: mint and sell a 10-lb., $100 billion platinum coin. The president has the unambiguous authority to do this.
UPDATE 3: It's in my author description, but this is probably a good post to emphasize that these are my own views and absolutely not those of my employer. I'm leaving in a couple weeks, but still oughta be clear about that.
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