Debt ceiling sound and fury

A wheelbarrow of money to buy a loaf of bread. This is what Obama, with his fiscal cliff plan, threatens us with.
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The Gang of Six proposal on the national debt and debt ceiling might not get past the House—and must start in the House to be legal.

The latest debt ceiling moves

Last night, the House of Representatives passed, 234-190, the “cut cap balance” plan (HR 2560) that Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3) introduced. It would raise the debt ceiling by $2.4 billion, but only if Congress, by the necessary two-thirds of both houses, proposed a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. It would also cut $111 billion from the budget next fiscal year and cap spending at 20 percent of gross domestic product.

This vote came after six Senators (Republicans Coburn, Crapo, and Chambliss, and Democrats Conrad, Warner, and Durbin) presented another deal. Ostensibly, this deal would cut spending by $4 trillion over ten years, and raise tax revenue (but not tax rates) by $1.2 trillion.

At 2:00 p.m. today, Barack H. Obama, now holding office as President, hinted that he might accept a “short-term deal” after saying repeatedly that he would not.

Problems with the Gang of Six proposal

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), member of the Gang of Six trying to come up with a plan for the debt ceiling

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK). He rejoined the Gang of Six to hammer out another plan for the debt ceiling. Photo: US Senate

Conservatives, especially in the House of Representatives, do not like the Gang of Six plan. Newsmax.com quote Larry Sabato as saying that neither chamber has offered anything that the other would pass.

The main problem is that the Gang of Six plan exists only as a five-page executive summary. It is not a bill, and has no specific language saying where it would cut and what tax deductions it would disallow.

The other issue, that few in the press have noticed: the Gang of Six consist of Senators only. They must make their plan acceptable to the House of Representatives, and that’s hard enough. But they must somehow persuade the House to write the bill if it is to survive a Constitutional challenge.

The Constitution plainly says (Article I, Section 7, Clause 1):

All bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives.

Richard Rubin, writing at Bloomberg.com, suggested a plan that would certainly provoke a lawsuit.

The Senate could use House-passed tax legislation, such as a bill repealing the 2010 health-care law, as a shell for the proposal.

Nick Purpura, a New Jersey Tea Party activist, is already suing the government over the very notion of the Senate using a House-passed bill as a shell. That is how the Congress passed the very health-care reform bill that the House voted to repeal.

That bill is flatly illegal, because it started in the Senate. And now they want to use that same illegal act as a precedent for passing another act, while that same procedure is under judicial review? That is treasonous, to say the least!

In fact, Federal District Judge Roger Vinson, in his ruling in Florida ex rel. McCollum v. HHS et al., specifically observed that HR 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, started in the Senate and not the House. The “HR” number did not change that fact. Thus an “HR” number would not change a similar inconvenient fact in this case. (Vinson did not rule on the faulty origination, only because the plaintiffs in that case did not complain about it. He would have had to rule ex parte on the matter, but risked reversal on appeal if he did.)

Rubin, in that same article, speaks of “different yardsticks in the same plan” to score tax increases vs. tax cuts. In short, when the plan says that it would raise $1.2 trillion in extra revenue, it does not answer the question, “compared to what?”

Moving forward

The Gang of Six proposal is not ready for a vote. Everyone admits that. It probably could not get ready in time, even if the Senate could legally draft it. Even a spokesman for Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic Leader, said that Pelosi could not ask for support for a measure that is not ready for a vote. (He neglected to say that someone in the House would have to write the bill and introduce it in the House first if they want to avoid the Article I Section 7 issue.)

That might be why Obama said that he would accept a “short-term fix.” (No one has offered one yet.)

Featured image: a Weimar-era householder wheels a barrow full of worthless scrip to the corner baker to buy a loaf of bread.

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