Ten Miles Square


December 12, 2012 8:43 AM Attack of the Giant Killer Debt Limit

By James Wimberley

Here you go again with this nonsense.

Compared to the last round, there’s one big plus: Obama has said he won’t negotiate this time and has proposed scrapping the wretched thing:

I will not play that game, because we have got to break that habit before it starts.

He also won the election, which counts for something if you are not a Republican.

The negatives: Republicans have learnt nothing; and Obama’s spokesman has taken off the table the option to declare that “the debt limit is a violation of the 14th Amendment”. The platinum coin was never on it, and Jack Balkin, its inventor, doesn’t think it’s remotely realistic.

So partial government shutdown it it has to be. (The interest payments are sacred by the 14th Amendment. You may be able to protect food stamps and the pay of servicemen and women in combat, but not much else or it doesn’t add up.) Brad de Long is right: Obama should prepare the ground for negotiating by telling Republicans, in great detail, exactly what this would mean for their constituents.

Let me revive an idea I floated earlier: do it by zipcode. The constituents of Congressmen on board for fixing the limit get paid in full. Constituents of holdouts – from Medicare providers to defence contractors – get paid in IOUs, to the extent necessary to balance income and receipts week by week. If that isn’t enough, you pay the first group partly in IOUs; but they get the cash first. The accompanying letter, signed by Obama and Geithner, explains why. The constituents really, really won’t like that.

The first stage of torture by the Inquisition consisted in “showing the instruments” to the suspect. It was often enough.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

James Wimberley was head of the mutual assistance section of the department of education for the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and secretary to the Councilís higher education and research committee. He is retired.


  • wordtypist on December 13, 2012 9:39 AM:

    I think there is a way to avoid this problem. Every appropriations bill should have a provision raising the debt ceiling by the amount of the appropriation.

  • catclub on December 13, 2012 2:23 PM:

    Wordtypist. This.

    Obama should promise to veto any appropriation which does not have this included.

  • Rex Visigothis on December 26, 2012 11:07 PM:

    There is a variation of this approach premised upon Obama's authority as Commander in Chief that has the additional dimension of potentially obviating the debt ceiling by whacking military spending mercilessly.

    I myself dare to dream that the platinum coin solution will ultimately recommend itself to Obama, but in it's absence, why not what we could call "The LBJ gambit".

    In that maneuver, as (perhaps apocryphal) legend would have it, Johnson would extract votes from recalcitrant legislators by inviting them to watch a map of their state, with each military installation (or defense contractor...) represented by a light bulb, the serial extinguishing of which was intended to bring home how the Commander in Chief could fuck them up.

    Sadly Obama failed to take my suggestion last time this issue arose...