Meanwhile, there is a way to turn this crisis into an opportunity. The debt ceiling is an absurd anachronism that should not anyway exist. Only a handful of countries around the world have anything like it. And the president cannot actually make sense of it.
Brookings Institution scholar Henry Aaron points out that were Congress to refuse to raise the debt ceiling, the president would have to choose between two Congressional mandates on him. First, Congress passed spending and taxation levels for the year, which the president must faithfully execute. But then it does not raise the debt ceiling. So either the president must ignore the Congressional action requiring him to spend and tax at the levels they have set, or he has to ignore the fact that they did not raise the debt ceiling. Were this to happen, the president should declare that he is going to obey the more substantive law – actually asking him to spend money and levy taxes – and ignore the procedural one. He would then borrow the money he needed to, to enforce Congress’ will.
Were President Obama to do this, it would solve the current crisis, and also end the prospect that the crux of America’s financial power – its sovereign debt and the dollar’s role of the world’s reserve currency – could ever again be held hostage through thoroughly undemocratic parliamentary games.