Robert Meale’s letter, “Three myths about the debt ceiling,” suggests that it is unnecessary to raise the debt ceiling since it would not force the nation to default on the official public debt. He argues that Social Security, Medicare and other intergovernmental debt obligations are not included in the public debt, which is correct.
What he fails to mention is that these are still legal obligations of the U.S. government. Failure to raise the debt ceiling, as required to meet the spending obligations that Congress has approved, is both economically reckless and morally indefensible. Imagine the chaos that would ensue if the Treasury stopped making Social Security and Medicare payments, even for a single month; or slashed payrolls for two million Federal workers, or 1.5 million military personnel. Imagine also the reaction of financial markets when they see our cavalier attitude toward legal obligations.
Meale also states that the president is not authorized to exceed the debt ceiling to satisfy Section 4 of the 14th Amendment; that is debatable, but the president is the chief steward of the U.S. economy — and is required to act in the public interest. If Congress sends conflicting messages by approving spending, but then fails to provide a means to pay for that spending, the president must act, even if it means declaring emergency powers.
Finally, Meale refers to “Obama’s unwillingness to implement any meaningful spending cuts,” which is a complete falsehood. The president has made repeated efforts to reach a grand bargain on budget issues, including entitlement reform, but he has no willing partner in the discussion. Republican Congressmen, including our Representatives Roskam and Hultgren, seem content to send the U.S. economy into the tank if they don’t get their way on spending cuts. We need a more sensible approach.
William S. Hicks
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