Thursday, July 7, 2011

figuring out what the debt ceiling means

Since the government must prepare for another possible shutdown on August 2,
there have been many interesting discussions of what might happen.
It's 'way different from the continuing resolution situation, and it
certainly affects NASA.
It's also 'way different from what you may have heard.

What happens when it is mathematically IMPOSSIBLE for the President to
comply with three conflicting laws at once (as at present, considering
the future!):

1 -- The requirement to fund federal activities as specified under the
Continuing Resolution
2 -- The requirement to adhere to the debt ceiling
3 -- The requirement to honor obligations to pay interest on bonds,
and to pay social security and such

It seems that the Constitution (see URL above) absolutely PROHIBITS
the President from stopping
payments on the national debt or on pensions from the federal
government. When 1 and 2 conflict,
people tell me the President has a free hand to decide which mix of
the laws to follow. UNILATERALLY
he is free to define and follow any plan he chooses in this space,
until and unless new laws get passed all the way --
even if one doesn't pass because he chooses to veto it.

Thus it seems he will be able to unilaterally cancel any expenditures
or procurements under the continuing resolution that he does not
like. Like Ares residua.

It looks as if he will be able to continue borrowing anyway, up to
what it takes to fulfill 1, but it would look a lot better if he
made very deep emergency type cuts across the board in the CR
expenditures so as to minimize (and if possible zero out)
the borrowing, perhaps by phasing out some things...

Some people might even like what he chooses; some might not. And he
would still retain the right to veto
possible debt deals which he views as even worse than that outcome.

It reminds me a little of EPA regulation of CO2 emissions underway
right now, under the Clean Air Act.

Who knows?

I wish I didn't have to think about such things... and will try not to...


By the way, a friend said: "When two laws conflict, the courts will give leeway to the President to choose or interpolate as best he can, until new laws are passed." Thinking it over, I wondered: wouldn't the most recent law supersede the older? Thus wouldn't the President be OBLIGED to adhere to the continuing resolution spending levels, and thus obliged to keep borrowing money? But perhaps the friend knows more. Back in 2009, when I looked hard at some recent laws, and the Office of General Counsel of the Senate looked over a draft I was doing myself for Senator Specter,
it was clear that they needed EXPLICIT statements about how past laws are to be changed or amended; in other words, the new code of laws is just the old one, plus the new law, minus what is explicitly changed by the new law. In this case, I guess both
laws -- the CR and the debt ceiling act -- are both on the books, regardless of when they were passed.

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