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Opinion | Why Does Congress Keep Playing Chicken With the Debt Ceiling? | tnewst.com Press "Enter" to skip to content

Opinion | Why Does Congress Keep Playing Chicken With the Debt Ceiling?

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Reform the filibuster: As my colleague David Leonhardt explained, the filibuster is a Senate tradition, not a law, and a majority of senators can reform or end it at any time, as the chamber already has for judicial nominations.

Biden called the option “a real possibility” on Tuesday. But a couple of Senate Democrats — Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — have staunchly opposed making changes to the filibuster, and on Wednesday, Manchin said he would not change his stance now.

Mint a $1 trillion coin: The Times columnist Paul Krugman argued that the Biden administration could simply ignore Congress. “There’s a strange provision in U.S. law that empowers the Treasury secretary to mint and issue platinum coins in any quantity and denomination she chooses,” he explained. “So on the face of it, Janet Yellen could mint a platinum coin with a face value of $1 trillion — no, it needn’t include $1 trillion worth of platinum — deposit it at the Federal Reserve and draw on that account to keep paying the government’s bills without borrowing.”

Yellen, however, dismissed the idea as “a gimmick,” equivalent to “asking the Federal Reserve to print money to cover deficits that Congress is unwilling to cover by issuing debt.”

Many people across the political spectrum don’t think so. “The chief problem with the debt ceiling is that it is divorced from actual decisions on spending and taxation, which happen during the budgetary process,” Samanth Subramanian argued in Quartz. “Congress first approves government spending via its budget; then, months later, the debt ceiling battles begin, when legislators snatch the opportunity to call into question expenditures that have already been endorsed.”

Most other countries don’t do this. Rather, they negotiate spending during the budget process itself. “Most countries’ legislatures don’t involve themselves one bit in debt issuance,” Philip Wallach, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told Subramanian. “They make spending and tax decisions, and then tell their treasuries: ‘Now you go find out how to fund the government.’ I don’t think that’s crazy at all.”

There are many pathways to getting rid of the debt ceiling permanently, as Dylan Matthews wrote in Vox. David Super, a Georgetown Law professor and congressional procedure expert, argued it could be done through reconciliation. Others have suggested raising the ceiling to an effectively unreachable number, like “a quadrillion googolplex dollars.”


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