The “Debt Crisis” According to Bruce Bartlett: Capital Investment, the “Debt Burden,” Fiat Currency, and the Debt Limit
This is the second in a blog series of commentaries on Bruce Bartlett's recent statement to the Senate Budget Committee. The first post in the series discussed a number of his comments on aspects of the “debt crisis,” a crisis he and I both believe doesn't exist. I discussed a number of his reasons for doubting the severity of any debt problem and related each of them to the capabilities of the United States as a fiat sovereign.
In this post, I'll cover the issues related to capital investment, the debt burden, fiat currency, and the debt limit. I'll begin with Bruce Bartlett's statement on how capital investments ought to be treated in the budget. Read more about The “Debt Crisis” According to Bruce Bartlett: Capital Investment, the “Debt Burden,” Fiat Currency, and the Debt Limit
Provided that the Senate and House follow through on the scenario now on the table, it looks like the game of chicken worked for the Democrats this time. We're off the hook on default and Government shutdown for now, and Washington village pundits are in full-throated cries of celebration.
Congress is off the hook too. They don't have to offer any solutions to real, rather than manufactured, problems.
The President is also off the hook, he won't, for now, need to exercise any of the options, like minting the coin, using consols, or premium bonds, or asset sales to the Fed, or others available to him to render the debt limit legislation impotent. So, he gets to preserve debt limit threats from the Republicans as a negotiating tool they can use to “force” him into entitlements cuts later on. Read more about Off the Debt Limit Hook for at Least the Next Four Months
This is Part VI of a six part series replying to a claim by the President at his recent White House News Conference. Part I covered the News Conference and the first two (the selective default, and the exploding option) of seven options the President might use to try save the US from defaulting in the face of continued deadlock in the Congress on raising the debt limit or repealing the law enabling it in its entirety. Part II discussed Platinum Coin Seigniorage, invoking the 14th amendment to justify continuing to issue conventional Treasury debt instruments, and consols. Part III discussed premium bonds, and Treasury sales of the Government's material and cultural assets to the Federal Reserve. Part IV, then evaluated all seven options in light of variations among them in likely degree of legal difficulties they might face, and also the likely impact of each on confidence in the bond markets, if used. Part V then summarized my evaluation of the seven options. This part will end the series by saying first, what the President ought to do, and then by saying what I think he is most likely to do. Read more about Rationalization and Obligation, Part VI: What He Ought to Do, What He Probably Will Do
This is Part V of a six part series replying to a claim by the President at his recent White House News Conference. Part I covered the News Conference and the first two (the selective default, and the exploding option) of seven options the President might use to try save the US from defaulting in the face of continued deadlock in the Congress on raising the debt limit or repealing the law enabling it in its entirety. Part II discussed Platinum Coin Seigniorage, invoking the 14th amendment to justify continuing to issue conventional Treasury debt instruments, and consols. Part III discussed premium bonds, and Treasury sales of the Government's material and cultural assets to the Federal Reserve. Part IV, then evaluated all seven options in light of variations among them in likely degree of legal difficulties they might face, and also the likely impact of each on confidence in the bond markets, if used. Read more about Rationalization and Obligation, Part V: Differences Are Everything
In Part I, Part II, and Part III, I listed and analyzed seven options, analyzed them and also pointed out that the President's 14th amendment option, actually makes turning to the 14th as a justificat Read more about Rationalization and Obligation, Part IV: Differences Among Options
In Part I of this six-part series I presented the President's explanation of why he can't use alternative options for coping with the default threat arising out of refusal to raise the debt ceiling, a summary of the kinds of difficulties characterizing it, and discussed two of seven options, selective default, and the exploding option, the President has to deal with it, apart from the way he seems to have chosen. Read more about Rationalization and Obligation, Part III: Premium Bonds, and Asset Sales
This six-part series is a reply to the President's glossing over the options open to him apart from playing “chicken” with the Republicans over the debt ceiling. Part I, presented the President's explanation, a summary of the kinds of difficulties characterizing it, and discussed two of seven options, selective default, and the exploding option, the President has to deal with it, apart from the way he seems to have chosen. Part II will discuss his platinum coin, 14th amendment, and consols.
Platinum Coins, the 14th amendment, and Consols
3. Using the authority of a 1996 law to mint proof platinum coins with arbitrary face values in the trillions of dollars to fill the Treasury General Account (TGA) with enough money to cease issuing debt instruments, and even enough to pay off the existing debt. This option, originating with beowulf (Carlos Mucha) in its Trillion Dollar Coin (TDC) form has gotten a lot of attention. But a variation of it in its High Value Platinum Coin Seigniorage (HVPCS) form, requiring except in my own writing.
The difference in the TDC and HVPCS variations in their political implications are great. The TDC looks like a temporary expedient to get around debt ceiling problems, whose use can be repeated when needed. But, it doesn't quickly remove the political problem of “the national debt” from consciousness as one of our most serious political problems. On the other hand, minting a $60 T coin would change the background of politics by providing for relatively rapid payoff of the debt subject to the limit without balanced budget-creating recessions. Read more about Rationalization and Obligation, Part II: Coins, the 14th, and Consols
The media and politicians in both parties are still largely echoing the Administration's framing of the fiscal situation and absolving the President of his share of the blame for the debt limit crisis. They're reinforcing his message They're also preparing the way for a compromise, that will, almost certainly, result in hurtful cuts to Government spending including renewed consideration of "the Great Betrayal," also known as “the Grand Bargain,” including passage of the chained CPI cuts to Social Security over the objections of a large majority of the American people.
The mainstream news outlets still haven't seriously questioned the President's claims that There Is No Alternative (TINA) to just facing down the Republican's shutdown and debt ceiling related threats without giving in or resorting to any options to de-fang the debt ceiling threat. They have begun to mention other options, but in a way that is largely supportive of the President's reluctance to use them. In reinforcing TINA, the mainstream is allowing the President to escape from responsibility and obligation, while, ironically, allowing him to characterize himself as “the adult in the room.”
When it comes to our repeated and unwelcome debt ceiling crises, President Obama is like the person who says he has a problem, but when confronted with a variety of options for alleviating or even solving the problem, comes up with some rationalization about why each will not work. After awhile, it becomes obvious that the person with the problem doesn't want any help help solving it, but actually loves having it, and is fixated on a single objective having little to do with solving the problem (“the Great Betrayal”), that is very difficult to get, and wants to claim that there is no alternative, because, as the problem produces more and more negative effects he/she will be able to push through that objective. Read more about Rationalization and Obligation, Part I: No Magic Bullets?
It now looks like the big media and leaders in both parties are no longer focusing on the Government Shutdown crisis, but are now moving on to the notion that the shutdown is melding with the upcoming probable breaching of the debt limit to create a combined mother of all fiscal crises. Along with this, the media and many politicians, encouraged by the President's standing “strong, strong, strong,” are now directing attention away from whether ObamaCare will be delayed or compromised, to other types of ransom the Administration might pay in return for both re-opening the Government and also providing an increase of an undetermined amount in the debt limit. Meanwhile there are reports that under increasing Wall Street pressure John Boehner is preparing to negotiate with House Democrats and allow a vote to pass a CR and a clean debt limit increase bill, in return for concessions he can take back to his caucus.
TINA does not apply in this case, and the President's choices are not limited to just refusing to negotiate or giving in to ransom demands whether focused on Obamacare, the Keystone Pipeline, entitlement cuts,“tax reform frameworks” or any other measures that give “tea party” Republicans “the respect” they think is due them. By continuing to frame things in this way, the media and politicians in both parties are echoing the Administration's framing of the situation and absolving the President of his share of the blame for the debt limit crisis. They are also preparing the way for a compromise, that will, almost certainly, result in hurtful cuts to Government spending including renewed consideration of "the Great Betrayal," also known as the Grand Bargain, and probably passage of the chained CPI cuts to Social Security over the objections of a large majority of the American people. Read more about Stop “the Great Betrayal:” Kabuki Update
MSNBC continues on with its campaign to cast the Tea Party Republicans in the role of principal villains in the imminent Government budget/ government shutdown crisis and the likely coming debt ceiling crisis. The teabots, you see, are using the Republican majority in the House to demand more austerity in government and defunding of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Read more about Stop the Kabuki: It's About “the Great Betrayal”
Here's an exchange from last Friday's Chris Hayes “All In” MSNBC show among Chris, Robert Costa of the National Review, and Ezra Klein of The Washington Post's “Wonkblog.” In what follows I've slightly edited the MSNBC transcript to get rid of obvious verbal deviations but haven't corrected for punctuation.
Robert: i think ezra brought up a great point. you saw eric cantor trying to come up with this plan and that would allow conservatives, allow the right to have a vote on defunding, but not really attach it to the continuing resolution. the minute he brought this up, the conservatives they revolted. you have a republican leadership that wants to fund the government, but they don't have the votes.
Chris: you've got 233 house republicans. you need 218 to pass something and 33 republicans want to fully defund obama care. you had harry reid today saying about john boehner, i feel sorry for him. everyone's constantly looking at him saying he has essentially the worst job in washington. what is the way out of this box? Read more about Ezra Is Terrified Because of His Framing
This post by Lynn Parramore makes the point that the next crash is coming and probably will be blamed on the Democrats. It's a great point, but it needs to be pursued further. Read more about Do the Democrats Really Want to Bear the Blame for a Crash that Wall Street Will Cause?
Stories in The Washington Post and the New York Times have some in the blogosphere proclaiming that it's time to celebrate the death of the Grand Bargain, and others at least raising a question about its death. I'll go on record as saying that celebrating its death is definitely premature.
It is so because we've yet to go through the budget or continuing resolution-passing activities coming up in September, and also have yet to go through the debt ceiling conflict to come in October. Mainstream Washington commentators believe John Boehner is determined to avoid a government shutdown crisis of the budget/CR conflict and that one or the other will be passed before October 1. Assuming they're right, that still leaves the matter of the debt ceiling “crisis,” which the same commentators are saying will happen because Boehner has to promise his tea party caucus a chance to coerce the Administration, if he's going to get their acquiescence on the budget/government shutdown matter.
So, they think, we are looking at a debt ceiling crisis around October 15, when Jack Lew says the Government will run out of borrowing authority, and he will be reduced to juggling $50 Billion in available cash to both repay debt and pay for the other obligations of Government legislated by Congress. The position on the debt ceiling being taken by the Administration now is that it will not negotiate over it, and that it's demanding a clean bill raising the debt limit to pay for spending Congress has already approved. Read more about Declaring the Grand Bargain Dead Is Premature
With the end of the Summer break, now comes the return of the debt limit dance. From Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew's letter to John Boehner:
“Congress should act as soon as possible to protect America’s good credit by extending normal borrowing authority well before any risk of default becomes imminent.
“Based on our latest estimates extraordinary measures are projected to be exhausted in the middle of October. At that point, the United States will have reached the limit of its borrowing authority, and Treasury would be left to fund the government with only the cash we have on hand on any given day, The cash balance at that time is currently forecasted to be approximately $50 billion.
“. . . A cash balance of approximately $50 Billion would be insufficient to cover net expenditures for an extended period of time. And, on certain days, net expenditures could exceed such a cash balance.
“. . . Protecting the full faith and credit of the United States is the responsibility of Congress because only Congress can extend the nation’s borrowing authority . . .“
OK. So, only Congress can extend the nation's borrowing authority. But it doesn't follow from that fact that protecting the full faith and credit of the United States is the sole responsibility of Congress. Read more about Jack Lew: Avoiding Default Is Your Responsibility Too
On May 9, 2013, The Republican House passed H.R. 807 the Full Faith and Credit Act. The Bill says in part:
(a) In General- In the event that the debt of the United States Government, as defined in section 3101 of title 31, United States Code, reaches the statutory limit, the Secretary of the Treasury shall, in addition to any other authority provided by law, issue obligations under chapter 31 of title 31, United States Code, to pay with legal tender, and solely for the purpose of paying, the principal and interest on obligations of the United States described in subsection (b) after the date of the enactment of this Act.
(b) Obligations Described- For purposes of this subsection, obligations described in this subsection are obligations which are--
(1) held by the public, or
(2) held by the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund and Disability Insurance Trust Fund.
So, in brief, the Bill provides for the Treasury, even when it is about to reach the debt ceiling, to issue additional debt to pay principal and interest on debt instruments issued to the public including foreign nations, and to pay principal and interest on Social Security (SS) “trust fund bonds” in the course of paying SS recipients. Read more about Mr. President, End Debt Ceiling Hostage-taking for Good!