Carney gets it right, wrong, and evasive on the debt ceiling


With Congress back in session, so are the White House Press Briefings. On Wednesday, the debt ceiling debate was brought up, and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney offered both good and bad news to the American people, as well as complete evasion on the question of a trillion-dollar coin.

First, the original debt ceiling question put to Carney:

Just one on the debt ceiling.  A group of House Democrats said the President should consider using the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling.  This obviously came up last year, and when it did you said from the podium that the 14th Amendment would not give the President the power to ignore the debt ceiling.  But I’m wondering, given the President’s insistence that he’s not going to negotiate over the debt ceiling this time around, is the White House considering revisiting that issue, reconsidering its position on the 14th Amendment

Carney’s response to this question should give all Americans some relief:

MR. CARNEY:  Our position on the 14th Amendment has not changed.  And let’s be very clear — Congress has the responsibility and the sole authority to raise the debt ceiling.  And Congress must do its job.

Many Tea Party activists and others have been concerned that the President might try to push the debt ceiling higher without congressional authority via the 14th Amendment. Carney’s statement is a very good sign that the President does not intend to violate both the law and the Constitution.

Unfortunately, the rest of Carney’s response inaccurately depicts what the debt ceiling debate is about (emphasis added):

And I think it’s very important, as we approach the deadline of the debt ceiling, that people understand what we’re talking about.  Because sometimes the language we use and the phrases we use here in Washington I think make this a lot more mysterious for average folks out there than it needs to be.  Raising the debt ceiling is simply authorizing Congress to pay the bills that it’s already racked up.

This is not about future spending.  This is about you going to the store, the department store, and charging some goods on your credit card; you’ve made those purchases, the bill comes, you pay the bill.  You don’t tear it up and decide you’re not going to pay it unless you get what you want from store management.  You pay your bills.  And the United States has always paid its bills.  Congress has the responsibility and the authority to do that, and the President will not negotiate over it.

 As Tea Party Patriots pointed out on Thursday, as well as on Monday, it is a common refrain in Washington and in the media that the debt ceiling is about paying bills Congress has racked up. This is not true. The debt ceiling does act as a national credit card, as Carney notes, but by limiting future deficits and thus increases in debt, as a credit card limit. Carney is factually inaccurate to say the ceiling is for addressing current obligations.

Later in the same press conference, NBC White House Correspondent Chuck Todd asked if President Obama was still considering minting a trillion-dollar coin as a “solution” to the debt ceiling. Despite Todd asking six separate times, and at least three different ways, about the White House’s plans, Carney refused to answer. Instead, Carney bashed House Republicans, said it was Congress’ duty to raise the debt ceiling and pay the bills of the country, and touted the job creation record of the President.

While one could take solace in Carney’s laying responsibility for the debt ceiling at Congress’ feet, his refusal to actually answer Todd’s question means the option is still on the table for the White House. This is a very bad thing for a country with a shaky credit rating and unsustainable debt levels.

In the end, it is good that the President doesn’t plan to violate the Constitution and existing law to raise the debt ceiling. However, it is disappointing that Carney continues to otherwise mislead the American people on the importance of the debt ceiling, and very disturbing that minting a coin as an absurd “solution” to the debt ceiling is still being considered.