This Henry Aaron is not the home run hitting former baseball player, but the longtime top tax expert at the Brookings Institution. In today's New York Times he has an op-ed entitled "Obama Should Ignore Debt Ceiling: (I have actually linked to Mark Thoma's economist view links for today, but it is the top one there). He makes numerous valid points. One is to point out that if the debt ceiling is not raised then the president will be in a situation of inevitably violating the law one way or another. On the one hand, he must have the Treasury pay bills as they come in that have been lawfully approved by Congress with him signing on. OTOH, of course, he is not supposed to borrow money if the debt ceiling has been hit in order to pay for those bills (and he cannot unilaterally raise taxes to do so, either, a point not usually noted, and clearly way off the charts constitutionally).
Aaron notes that there was a discussion of this conundrum in 2012 in the Columbia Law Review by Neil H. Buchanan and Michael C. Dorf who concluded that indeed there are only three options in this case: 1) do not pay lawful bills, 2) arbitrarily raise taxes, and 3) simply ignore the debt ceiling and proceed as usual. After noting that these are all bad option and technically illegal, with Aaron adding "unconstitutional because violating the law," they conclude that #3 is the least bad of the bad options. Aaron notes that Obama doing this may well lead to him being impeached by the House, but he would not be convicted by the Senate, and it would avoid multiple disasters to the world economy. Aaron also notes that getting rid of the debt ceiling will end the periodic attempts at blackmail by opposition parties trying to achieve ends they could not get through normal legislative processes. All of this is correct, needless to say.
The one thing that I find curious about this is that neither Buchanan and Dorf nor Aaron raise the possibility of not merely ignoring the debt ceiling, but going further to put the nail in its coffin (or drive the stake through its heart, if you prefer) by declaring it unconstitutional, with Part D of the 14th Amendment that declares that the national debt must be paid the obvious base for doing so. I note that not only Bill Clinton and Bruce Bartlett have urged this, but also Moody's prior to the last raising of the debt ceiling, which was followed by them downgrading US debt precisely because of the political silliness and uncertainty involved in this process of raising the debt ceiling.
Indeed, Aaron emphasizes how ridiculous the debt ceiling is by calling it a law "like a human appendix," with no discernible function, given that the budget already sets a course for a particular deficit level that will change the debt level. As has been said a million times, raising the debt ceiling only ratifies what has already been committed, the source of all the contradictions. I also remind one and all that the US is the only nation in world history to have ever had such a nominal debt ceiling. It is time to have a fiscal appendectomy and remove this absurdity most thoroughly and completely, once and for all.