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Dual crises: Shutdown, debt limit could merge


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The Obama administration has shown little interest in such steps.

One possibility was suggested in 2011 by former President Bill Clinton and more recently by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California: have Obama raise the ceiling on his own, citing the part of the 14th Amendment that says "the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law ... shall not be questioned."

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Obama was asked at a Twitter town hall forum in July whether he would use that amendment as the basis to raise the debt ceiling. "I don’t think we should get to the constitutional issue," he tweeted. "Congress has a responsibility to make sure we pay our bills. We’ve always paid them in the past."

His spokesman Jay Carney has said the administration doesn’t believe the amendment gives the president the authority to ignore the debt ceiling.

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While budget deficits are coming down, the government continues to add to the national debt.

The deficit represents the annual difference between the government’s spending and the tax revenues it takes in. Each deficit contributes to the national debt. The last time the government ran an annual surplus was in 2001.

The annual deficit declined to roughly $642 billion for the just-ended budget year, the first time in five years it has dropped below $1 trillion. It was $1.4 trillion when Obama took office in 2009.

Still, the government must borrow 19 cents for every dollar it spends, pushing up the nation’s overall debt level.

One reason that keeps increasing: the army of retiring baby boomers leaving the workforce and beginning to collect Medicare and Social Security benefits.


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Obama and Democratic leaders denounce as a form of blackmail GOP efforts to use the shutdown and debt limit debate to delay or defund Obama’s health care law.

Efforts by opposition parties to try to put strings on a president’s debt-limit increases have been pretty standard going back at least to President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s.

"Congress consistently brings the government to the edge of default before facing its responsibility. This brinkmanship threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veterans’ benefits," Reagan said in a 1987 radio address. He was scolding the Democratic-controlled Congress for seeking to modify or defeat his proposal to raise the debt limit.

He raised the debt ceiling 18 times.

As a senator representing Illinois, Obama voted against President George W. Bush’s 2006 increase in the debt limit, calling it a "leadership failure" and "sign that the U.S. government can’t pay its own bills."

Bush won that battle.

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Follow Tom Raum on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/tomraum



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