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The public policy blog of the American Enterprise Institute
On Monday, I wrote that House Republicans were planning to violate the Boehner Rule and raise the debt limit without matching the increase dollar for dollar with spending cuts, as they had promised. It turns out the situation is far worse than I imagined. Republicans are not voting to raise the debt limit — they are voting the sprinkle magic fairy dust on it, and make it disappear for three months.
Under the GOP plan, the debt limit will simply not exist until May 19, and then will be magically re-imposed at whatever the debt level happens to be that day. Seriously.
This is without precedent in American history. As this new Congressional Research Service report notes, “Congress has always placed restrictions on federal debt.”
From the time of our founding, those restrictions were set by specific bills in which Congress explicitly authorized borrowing for specified purposes (e.g. the War Revenue Act of 1898 that funded Spanish-American War). Then, in the period between World War I and World War II, Congress switched to a set, broad, overall debt limit amount that could be filled by multiple expenses — giving the Treasury Secretary greater flexibility.
But there has never been a time when there was no debt limit of whatsoever — until now.
Why would the House GOP do such a thing? So they can buy time in their fiscal standoff with Obama? So they can claim that they did not — technically — “raise” the debt ceiling? So that they can claim that — technically — they did not violate the Boehner Rule?
What happens if one day Democrats control both houses of Congress and the White House, and use this legislation to justify getting rid of the debt limit altogether? They can say Republicans did it first.
This is a Republican innovation, and it sets a horrible precedent that they will one day come to regret.
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