The President’s 'Clean Bill'
By John D. Turner
19 Oct 2013

If you are like me, you probably thought that when the Democrats and the President said that they would only accept a “clean” bill on raising the debt ceiling, they meant one that had nothing on it but the debt ceiling increase. You probably also thought the bill would actually contain an increase on the debt ceiling. You would be wrong in both cases.

You see, laws are made in Washington DC by politicians who specialize in using and understanding a version of the English language quite different from the one we outside the Federal government in Washington DC use. The bill passed by the House and Senate, and signed into law by the President on Wednesday was neither “clean” (by our definition), nor was it an increase to the debt ceiling.

It didn’t include any spending cuts or changes to Obamacare, which was the main impetus the Republicans had for shutting down the government. It did however include some special earmark projects. So not only did the Republicans not succeed in obtaining even the smallest measure of what they sought, the bill actually increased the amount of money the government spent! Score: Democrats 1, Republicans 0.

As bills go, this one was, at least, fairly short – only 35 pages. I guess most congresscritters could read that before they passed it, though most probably did not. I can sort of understand that as it may as well be written in Greek; then again, that is part of their job one would think. Who writes this stuff anyway? It’s funny – Congress insists that businesses write things such as contracts in plain English and write loads of regulations to that effect, but when it comes to their own bills, it takes squads of trained translators to make any sense of what they sign.

So what else, besides funding the government and raising the debt ceiling, was in that “clean” bill that the Democrats insisted on? An additional $2.125 billion to upgrade a lock in the Ohio River between Illinois and Kentucky; another $350 million to help Colorado rebuild roads that were washed out during flooding last month; $294 million more for the VA to assist with reducing their backlog of disability claims and yet more spending to fund the Pentagon’s assistance to various African nations hunting a notorious warlord.

It also included $600 million for the Forest Service and $36 million for the Interior Department, both for firefighting, and $174,000 to the widow of Senator Lautenberg, apparently just because. Oh yes – and back pay for government workers furloughed by the shutdown.

Thursday morning saw those furloughed workers back at work, working hard. And also on Thursday morning, U.S. debt jumped a record $328 billion to over $17 trillion total, setting a new record high monthly deficit, eclipsing the previous record of $238 billion in monthly debt set two years ago. And the month is only half over. How did this happen? Well, in order not to exceed the limit, the treasury had to borrow from other unconventional sources, such as the Civil Service TSP G Fund (the 401K for federal employees). By law, these all have to be paid back immediately as soon as the government has the ability to do so.

Essentially, the government temporarily “stole” our pension fund – but they paid it all back so it’s all good, right? Imagine if a private corporation tried such “creative funding” schemes to cover a temporary budget shortfall!

Good thing the debt ceiling was raised! So, just out of curiosity, how much was it raised? I have read several news articles that say that it was raised, but none that say by how much – only that we will be having this discussion again early next year since the CR funding the government runs out on 15 January, and the debt limit has been “extended” through 7 February.

Funny thing about that; in actuality, the debt limit was not raised. Instead, the Senate did something quite different, and the House, anxious to get this hot potato off their plate went ahead and chopped off on it anyway. Rather than raise the debt limit to some fixed amount, the Senate instead suspended the limit through February 7. That’s right. Between now and then, there is no limit on how much the government can borrow. This is something that President Obama has been asking for recently. He is on record (despite his contrary opinions when President Bush was in office) as saying that there should be no limit on the government’s ability to borrow.

And now, through February 7, 2014, there isn’t.

So now what happens if, on 7 Feb, there is no agreement to raise the debt ceiling? Immediately, the U.S. will be over the limit. Way over the limit. What happens if, instead of “negotiating” with Republicans over how high the limit should be raised, instead they demand that the limit be permanently eliminated, as the President desires? Republicans would have no choice but to concede.

This reminds me of the signing of the Panama Canal treaty which President Carter signed (over the objections of Congress) and then demanded that the Senate ratify, or else the word of the President of the United States would “be worthless,” and of course we couldn’t let that happen! “I’ve already signed it – you have to ratify!”

Now that the bill has been signed, supposedly it's the Congress turn to get together and address moving the debt ceiling and passing a budget for the first time since before the President took office. This “temporary legislation” was to give them enough time to do just that. However the President and the Democrats have already announced that the next big thing on their plate is to pass “comprehensive immigration reform.” Does anyone think that can be done quickly? Who here believes that the Congress can solve comprehensive immigration reform and address the budget and debt ceiling simultaneously?

Well, as long as the Republicans behave in a “bipartisan” manner and rubberstamp anything and everything the Democrats put before them, they probably can. Who thinks that will happen? Or should happen?

Let’s see – what is coming up between now and 15 January. Well, there is Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Taking a look at the Congressional schedule", the House is not even scheduled to be in session much between now and the end of the year. In fact, it is easier to list when they will be there: 7 more days in October, 8 days in November, and 8 days in December. And of course when they are there, they are not always there. They usually leave early on Friday and come in late on Monday.

By contrast, the Senate is scheduled to be in session 9 more days in October, 13 days in November, and 21 days in December. That’s much better than the House. It is worth noting however that neither was supposed to be in session this week – and they were, so they will probably “make that up” somewhere along the line. And, like the House, the Senate has a tendency to leave early and come in late as well.

I couldn’t find the 2014 recess schedule yet, however last year the House took most of January off while the Senate was in session pretty much the entire month (except for weekends and holidays). However keep in mind that “past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results”.

I guess the House will work on the budget and debt ceiling (all spending bills must originate in the House), and the Senate will work on “comprehensive immigration reform.” That ought to work well. The Senate is guaranteed to not like what the House comes up with and vice versa.

Sounds like the Democrat strategy to overload the system will be in full play, almost guaranteeing a replay of what we just went through coming up again in the latter part of January. Just in time to smear the Republicans some more before the national elections! And to ensure that whatever the national narrative is, it won’t be about the track record of Democrats running for office.

The President has said this was all about ensuring that “the United States can pay its bills.” The Republican position was to try to ensure that the United States had fewer bills to pay. The complete removal of the debt ceiling, and the absence of a budget, removes any limits on spending that may have even theoretically been in place before. At some point the United States will be unable to pay its bills, not because there is some fictitious “debt ceiling’ standing in the way, but simply because we don’t have the money to do so and no one is willing any longer to lend it to us.

We haven’t gotten there yet but we are racing there as fast as our printing presses and charge card can get us there. If you are looking for fiscal responsibility from the Democrats you will be looking for a long time. Nancy Pelosi has already announced at least three major spending sprees she plans to take on once she is installed back in office as Speaker of the House, including “universal child care,” guaranteed to be another open-ended, spectacularly expensive and unsustainable government program brought to you from the “people who care”.

One thing is for sure; as usual, things are not as they seem, nor as they are reported. Politicians are very good at prevaricating and misleading. And, with willing accomplices in the media, more and more they just downright lie and seem to care less and less who knows it.

And the next time a politician says they will only accept a “clean bill,” you had best ask them exactly what they mean by “clean.” And keep in mind what they say about what it means when a politician’s lips are moving.