If the debt limit is not lifted the President could theoretically be forced to break some laws. Congress would have required the President to give money to people while also denying the President any legal way to get that money. Faced with this logical inconsistency of the laws, the question becomes which laws will Obama choose to break?
At his press conference yesterday Obama heavily implied that in the event we go over the debt limit, he plans to break the Social Security Act, the Defense Authorization Act, laws governing the funding food safety and many more. From Obama:
These are bills that have already been racked up, and we need to pay them. So, while I’m willing to compromise and find common ground over how to reduce our deficits, America cannot afford another debate with this Congress about whether or not they should pay the bills they’ve already racked up. If congressional Republicans refuse to pay America’s bills on time, Social Security checks, and veterans benefits will be delayed.
We might not be able to pay our troops, or honor our contracts with small business owners. Food inspectors, air traffic controllers, specialist who track down loose nuclear materials wouldn’t get their paychecks. Investors around the world will ask if the United States of America is in fact a safe bet. Markets could go haywire, interest rates would spike for anybody who borrows money. Every homeowner with a mortgage, every student with a college loan, every small business owner who wants to grow and hire.
Obama is stating that he believes his legal requirement to follow the debt limit law should supercede his legal requirement to send out Social Security checks, pay soldiers or reimburse government contractors. The legal justification/rational for this position is something I would be very interested to hear, but that is his position at the moment.
When faced with having to break at least one law, Obama is threatening to choose to break the law in the most economically and socially destructive way possible. While this position reinforces Obama’s desire to play a chicken with the debt limit, it is in reality a dangerously stupid way for any part of the executive branch to deal with conflicting legal instructions. It would seem when faced with completely contradicting laws the best solution is to choose to break the most damaging of the laws until the courts rule on the matter.
At this moment the Obama administration is solely focused on raising the stakes for Republicans and not finding other ways around the issue or mechanisms to reduce the danger.