On Sunday, Representative Louie Gohmert (R-TX) spoke with a reporter for The Young Turks. The reporter asked “Would you allow us to default on our debt?” and Gohmert replied “No, that would be an impeachable offense by the President.”
Gohmert is half right. Unfortunately for him, it’s not the half he thinks is right.
Before we get to Louie’s comment, a little background.
The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.
Constitution of the United States of America, Amendment XIV, Section 4
The Constitution pretty clearly states that you don’t get to fuck with the full faith and credit of the U.S. Treasury. Sure, it’s not one of the top ten Amendments, but it’s enshrined in the Constitution nonetheless. Remarkably enough, since every member of the Tea Party proclaims themselves an expert on the Constitution, they conveniently overlook this little passage every time the debt ceiling comes up for a vote.
Up until relatively recently, raising the debt ceiling was a pro forma thing. Enough people voted for it so it would pass, and some people from both parties got to vote against it and make speeches about how terrible it is that we had to raise the debt ceiling again, and about how we’re passing on trillions of dollars of debt to our children and their children and so on and so forth. That is, up until we elected a black President and half the country lost their goddamn minds. Suddenly what had previously been something Congress just did because it has to be done became a hostage for House Republicans: give us what we want, or the U.S. Treasury gets it. The House GOP and the White House eventually came up with the utterly asinine sequester compromise, and life goes on.
The thing about the sequester was that it was designed to be so painful to both sides that both sides would compromise and come up with a budget. Well, the GOP is run by anarchists who would rather see the government burn than take a single dime in taxes, so of course the sequester goes into effect because they’re incapable of compromise.
That brings us to a few weeks ago and the government shutdown. Basically, the GOP has shut down the government because Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) (Seriously, what the fuck is in the water in Texas?), who is the de facto head of the Republican Party at this point, or at least a human manifestation of its raging id, decided that the only way the government can be allowed to continue to operate is if President Obama functionally repeals his signature domestic policy achievement, the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. To his credit, the President did not literally wipe his ass with Cruz’s demands (although I wish he would have), and instead stated, clearly and unequivocally, that a “clean” Continuing Resolution (a bill with no amendments or riders) to fund the government and raising the debt ceiling were non-negotiable.
At this point, the GOP decided that this was a winning strategy (it’s not), and went all in (on the equivalent of a pair of twos). Their demand is simple: delay Obamacare, and we’ll fund the government.
The President, and Congressional Democrats (to their credit) have thus far told the GOP to eat a dick, as they should.
On October 17th, the U.S. Treasury will have exhausted all its available options and have approximately $30 billion cash on hand. That seems like a lot, up until you consider that the US Government can spend up to $60 billion in a single day. At that point, we’ve entered the Great Unknown. We don’t know precisely what would happen if Congress failed to raise the debt ceiling. The general consensus among people that know such things is that it would basically be the financial apocalypse, the end of the dollar as the global reserve currency, and would almost assuredly thrust the entire planet into a global economic depression that would make 1929 look like a stroll through Central Park in autumn.
The only real evidence we have as to what would happen if the US defaulted comes from 1979, where we actually did default on 0.000145% worth of our bills. Due to a flood of investor demand for Treasury bills and a series of technical issues, about $120 million worth of bills went unpaid. The net result is that interest rates went up more than half a percent. Again, not a big number, but when you’re talking about trillions of dollars in debt, a half a percent amortized over years or decades rapidly becomes billions of dollars, which is then added to the national debt.
I’d like to take a moment for everyone to reflect on that number: 0.000145%.
So, that brings us to where we are now. The Republican Party is holding a loaded gun not only to the head of the US Treasury, but also to the world financial system, and they’re just crazy enough to do it. If they do it, it’s the end of life as we know it. It would be the greatest self-inflicted damage in the history of the world. It would mark the end of the United States as a world power.
The stage is set: raise the debt ceiling, or everything goes to shit. That brings us back to Louie’s comment: “No, that would be an impeachable offense by the President.” You see, Louie is right about one thing: it’s an impeachable offense. The thing is, it’s not an impeachable offense by the President. The President can’t raise the debt ceiling unilaterally (although there are some schools of thought that suggest that he could). The Founders gave Congress the power of the purse. It’s up to Congress to fund the government. Right now there are enough votes in Congress to pass a clean CR and raise the debt ceiling in both the House and Senate. The problem is that Ted Cruz and Louie Gohmert and the people like them are not among them, which means that the Republican Congressional leadership is terrified of being primaried by the Tea Party if they allow such a bill to pass. Because the Republican Congressional Leadership is a bunch of feckless, dickless opportunists (yes it’s true, these men have no dicks), nothing is getting done.
So Louie Gohmert’s half right. It is an impeachable offense to flagrantly violate the Constitution. It’s part of the whole “high crimes and misdemeanors” thing. The problem is that it’s not the President that they’ll be leading out in shackles. It’ll be the guys like Gohmert and Cruz, who are responsible for this whole mess.
We can only hope that saner heads prevail and the good people of Texas (and many, many other states, including my own Indiana) remove their heads from their asses before it’s too late.