Bruce Bialosky

You would have had to be under a rock to miss our President stating that recently. He mouthed that repeatedly during the budget debate and the government shutdown. It became his mantra leading up to the impending vote for raising the debt ceiling. The constitutional lawyer was apparently absent the day they taught that we have three co-equal branches of government. More than anything else, Mr. Obama apparently does not understand how the debt ceiling works.

President Obama has regularly repeated “I will not negotiate over the full faith and credit of the United States.” Certainly he may mean that, but it appears he does not really understand the nature and the history of the debt ceiling. Or like many other things he may just be choosing to ignore it.

As with many other things, there was not always a debt ceiling. It was not part of our Constitution, as I am sure the Founders of our country never envisioned us being this much in debt. In fact, until 1917 the Congress had to authorize every specific incident of the country contracting debt. Then the United States entered World War I. Six months after our entry into the war, the Congress passed the Second Liberty Bond Act. The concept of a debt ceiling was created in this act. The law allowed the executive branch to issue bonds or incur other debt without Congressional approval. The debt could be issued up to a pre-established limit. The law was signed by the then most liberal President (Wilson) the country has had (other than the current one). It was passed by a Congress that had a plurality of Republicans in the House and a majority of Democrats in the Senate.

You may wonder what the leaders were thinking at the time. You can surmise that they wanted to provide flexibility to the President during a time of war. But since financial matters originate in the House, they did not want to provide a carte blanche to the executive branch to incur unlimited debt.

Thus, they established that a vote would have to be taken any time the debt ceiling would be raised. And it has been that way for 96 years. A vote in the Congress is by definition a political event. During the past 96 years there have been numerous votes regarding raising the debt ceiling, and I cannot remember a President flatly stating he will not negotiate.

Just to be clear there have been 53 votes to change the debt ceiling just since 1978. Of those votes only 26 were passed without being tied to other policy issues. The other 27 times (more than half) the debt ceiling was raised as part of either a comprehensive package or tied to significant reforms.


Bruce Bialosky

Bruce Bialosky is the founder of the Republican Jewish Coalition of California and a former Presidential appointee. You can contact Bruce at bruce@bialosky.biz