Early Returns

Eliminating the Debt Limit Is the Right Thing to Do

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

I'm not at all optimistic that Thursday's talk of eliminating the debt limit once and for all will actually come to anything. Republicans really like the debt limit, and Donald Trump and the Democrats just don't have the votes to do it by themselves. Even if narrow majorities in both chambers of Congress were willing to do it, that's still not enough -- it's extremely unlikely a bill will get to the floor of the House if Paul Ryan doesn't want it there, and over on the Senate side, the same 60-vote requirement to stop a filibuster that normally empowers the minority party can be used by the majority party to prevent a handful of defectors from working with Democrats successfully. In other words, it would take both parties in both chambers to sign on, and that doesn't seem likely.

GOP Looks Inward for Answers to Trump's Debt Deal

But of course it's the right thing to do, and I suppose Trump deserves kudos for supporting it (as long as that support lasts). 

There's simply no reason to have a statutory debt limit that has to be raised from time to time. Almost no other nation has anything like it. There's no evidence that it restrains spending or prevents larger deficits. It's just an ugly-looking vote that the incumbent majority party has to take every once in a while, for no reason whatsoever.

It does, of course, give irresponsible legislators an opportunity to demagogue. It's bad enough that minority parties (and both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of this over time) refuse to vote for it in order to force the majority party to do so. It's even worse when parties, or factions within a party, attempt to use debt-limit increases to hold the nation hostage. It was bad when Republicans did that during the Barack Obama presidency; it would be just as bad if Democrats were to do it now (so far, the worst they've done is insist on short-term increases so there will have to be multiple votes, but Senate Democrats voted for the current short-term increase on Thursday). 

And remember: Just as Republicans attempted to use the debt limit to reduce spending on programs they didn't like, it's certainly possible that future Democrats will use it to increase spending, or to demand other things they want. Debt-limit brinkmanship isn't inherently liberal or conservative, nor does it necessarily lead to smaller (or larger) deficits. All it does is reward irresponsible posturing and punish responsible lawmakers. I doubt that it will be eliminated, but I definitely hope it will be.

1. Sarah Binder at the Monkey Cage on congressional action on DACA

2. Elizabeth Cohen on naturalization and the Founders.

3. Ta-Nehisi Coates on Trump. As always, a must-read.

4. Jonathan Chait on Trump supposedly governing as a moderate

5. Kevin Drum on the debt-limit deal

6. My Bloomberg View colleague Al Hunt reports on Larry Summers and why government isn't going to be small

7. And the new edition of Vital Statistics on Congress is here! Congrats to Molly Reynolds and all others involved. Essential as always. 

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

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