Technical but Important

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Let me note something technical but important. While the White House has not yet shown any inclination to argue that the President has legal or constitutional authority to disregard the debt limit law, a union, National Association of Government Employees (NAGE), has. Indeed, they’re arguing in federal court that he is constitutionally obligated to do so. (On the legal and constitutional merits, I think there’s little question they’re right.) This case has been underway for a while. David Dayen, at the Prospect, notes the DOJ has now responded to the union’s request for a preliminary injunction.

As Dayen puts it

The good news is they responded early. The bad news is that, rather than acquiesce to the plaintiffs, and agree that hitting the debt limit would force the executive branch to break the law, the Justice Department, which is representing Biden and Yellen, signaled their intention to oppose NAGE’s bid for relief late on Monday.

That doesn’t sound great.

Dayen is pretty critical of the administration generally and particularly on the debt ceiling standoff. And I won’t say there aren’t good reasons to be. He does note that there are various reasons the DOJ, which speaks for Biden and Yellen in this case, could be doing this.

Politico’s write-up interprets what happened a bit differently, saying the DOJ lawyer argued “he was not authorized to stake out a position on that question and he suggested that the department would argue that the union’s suit is not a proper vehicle to force DOJ to come to a legal conclusion.”

In isolation that makes sense. It would be understandable if the DOJ wants to consider this or pull the trigger at a time of its own choosing and in a manner of its own choosing. With this much at stake the White House understandably wouldn’t want an individual union at the steering wheel. But as with so many other elements of this drama, that logic assumes White House intentions which are simply not in evidence. Whether they plan to attack the premise that the House can force the country into default is unknown.

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