Earlier this week, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) spoke for 21 consecutive hours on the Senate floor. The purpose of his filibuster was to cause the Senate to defund the Obamacare law as the price of passing a new “debt ceiling” law to prevent a government shutdown. The Senate was unimpressed. Obamacare will be funded, and the “debt ceiling” law will (eventually) be passed with or without Senator Cruz’s support.
The Washington Times published an article entitled “As Sen. Ted Cruz gives a long speech, Treasury gets short on funding” which focused on the Cruz filibuster, but also touched on the debt limit issue. According to that article,
“The Treasury Department said Wednesday that it has less than a month’s worth of room to maneuver before it hits the debt limit, dropping yet another major fiscal deadline in the lap of a Congress already stymied over the annual spending bills.”
Now wait a second. . . .
I thought the “debt limit” was a number rather than a date.
In fact, I thought we’d hit the current, numerical debt limit of “$17 trillion” about four or five months ago—but government had continued to spend without regard for that “debt limit”.
But now I learn from The Washington Times that the “debt limit”—which presumably should absolutely not last beyond the end of the fiscal year on September 30th—might last at least several more weeks into October.
That news raised several questions:
1) Is the debt limit a number (like $17 trillion) or is it a date (like September 30th)?
If it’s a fixed number (like $17 trillion), we at least know that the debt limit is.
But if it’s a date–like September 30th or maybe October 19th or some such—that date is not fixed and we don’t even know what that date is, do we? Therefore,
2) How can there be a “limit” if we don’t know the nature of the limit (numerical or time)?
3) If the “debt limit” is actually a “time limit,” how can it be a “limit” if no one knows exactly when time will run out?
If the Debt Limit is not a numerical limit (and how can it be since the $17 trillion limit was exceeded months ago) and if the Debt Limit is not a time limit (and how can it be if no one knows when time will run out), then what, exactly, is the “Debt Limit”?
Is it even a “limit” (in the sense of “limited government”) or is it merely the illusion of a “limit” (in the sense of a big, unlimited government that can do whatever it likes)? (Does “limited government” mean lawful government? Does “unlimited government” mean lawless government?)
Insofar as the “debt limit” appears to be a numerical limit (currently, $17 trillion) that’s imposed by law, and insofar as the government ignored that numerical limit (it was exceeded months ago), can government also ignore its other obligations to obey the law?
If government isn’t bound to obey the law, what binds you and me to do so, other than brute force? If no brute force is present, should we still obey the law?
Those may seem like radical question, but they were implied by former Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis who observed in his dissenting opinion in Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (A.D. 1928) that:
“Decency, security, and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.”
Has government’s refusal to recognize the debt limit law bred public contempt for the law?
Yes—but only a little. I don’t plan to rob a bank because government refused to be bound by the debt ceiling law.
Still, government’s refusal to be bound by the law makes clear that, under the right circumstances, the law is negotiable—more of a recommendation than a mandate. Obedience seems often optional.
Has government’s refusal to obey the existing debt limit law invited each of us to become lawless? Has our government, by behaving lawlessly, invited anarchy?
No. Of course not. At least, not all by itself. Instead, government’s failure to obey the debt ceiling law is generally viewed with some bemused cynicism.
But what about in conjunction with knowledge that Congress routinely votes for laws (the “Patriot Act” and “Obamacare” are prime examples) that they don’t even read? The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the essence of every law is congressional intent. How can there be any “intent” if Congress hasn’t even read the laws it enacts?
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi made it abundantly clear that Congress couldn’t have had any intent when they voted for “Obamacare” when she told the Congress, “But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of controversy.” What legislative intent could Congress have had if they couldn’t read the bill until after they voted for it?
If there’s no “intent,” can there really be an enforceable “law”?
And, since Obamacare was enacted, some members of Congress have read the law and realized that it would not only impose significant burdens on the American people, but also (Gasp!) on congressmen and their staffs. Congress has therefore sought to exempt themselves and their staffs from Obamacare but otherwise, leave ordinary Americans subject to its burdens.
What about Justice Brandeis’ observation that “government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen”? Should Obamacare be imposed on the people, but not on Congress and their staff?
When Congress exempts itself from any law it imposes on the people, does that inspire your respect for Congress? How ‘bout your respect for “law”.
The truth is that the debt ceiling “drama” is just one more evidence of a big government that views itself as above the law. That’s what big, “unlimited” government is all about: lawlessness.
● Insofar as “confidence” is essential to maintaining both the economy and the value of the fiat dollar, does government increase or decrease public confidence by behaving lawlessly?
Was Justice Brandeis making a profound observation or merely providing some rhetorical glitter when he warned that “Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy”?
By “anarchy” did Brandeis imply economic collapse?
Was Brandeis right when he predicted that the result of lawless government could even include termination of that government’s “existence”?
Is it reasonable to have confidence in an economy or a currency subject to the central planning of a government that’s openly lawless? Can governmental lawlessness precipitate a general loss of confidence in government that might, in turn, be sufficient to trigger an economic and/or monetary collapse?
Is governmental lawlessness just one more reason to prepare for a serious economic decline?