Friday, July 29, 2011

Just a garden-variety political showdown

Dire warnings of a crisis serve the interests of both Democrats and Republicans as they try to bludgeon one another into a last-minute deal on the debt ceiling. But that doesn't mean the warnings are valid. There is zero—and I mean zero—chance that the United States will default on its debt even under the worst-case scenario. More fundamentally, it is wrong to look upon the current impasse as a symptom of a deeper "crisis of governability."

Despite claims to the contrary, this standoff is not unprecedented. It is a pale rerun of the Newt Gingrich-Bill Clinton confrontation over the federal budget in 1995 and 1996. ...

In contrast to 1995-96, the government can still spend all the tax revenues it collects, and it will be up to the president, and his secretary of the Treasury, to establish payment priorities. Under the Constitution, the first priority must be the payment of interest on the national debt—which the 14th Amendment states "shall not be questioned." Since the Treasury will be receiving about $172 billion in revenues in August, it will have no trouble paying the interest of $29 billion due during the month. There is no reason for the bond markets to panic.
--Bruce Ackerman, Slate, on why the debt ceiling debate is more about a government shutdown than a debt default