The Return of Pat Toomey's Bad Debt Limit Idea

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 8 2013 10:08 AM

The Return of Pat Toomey's Bad Debt Limit Idea

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Senator Pat Toomey, R-PA, listens as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction begins a full committee hearing on considering the rules and organizing the committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, September 8, 2011. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

It was around two years ago, January 2011, when new Sen. Pat Toomey told me (and a lot of op-ed pages) that hitting the debt limit wouldn't be that big a problem. He introduced the "Full Faith and Credit Act," which would have "require[d] that the Government prioritize all obligations on the debt held by the public in the event that the debt limit is reached." This was a big play, meant to reveal the essential weasel nature of Tim Geithner and the rest of the administration when they claimed that hitting the debt limit might mean default

On Laura Ingraham's show today, Toomey averred that "we have to raise the debt ceiling" as a "stop along this path" to fiscal sanity. And then he resurrected Full Faith and Credit.

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"We should pass a bill out of the bill out of the House," he said, "saying there will be certain priorities attached to certain things, namely payment of debt services and payment of our military."

In two years, all that's changed is the "paying our military" part of the play. Toomey wants to avoid the optics of summer 2011, when Democrats said (correctly, if a little too pat) that being unable to issue new debt meant that the government couldn't pay its bills to popular people, like veterans. But wasn't the nadir of the debt fight worse than all that? After a point, when you're saying the rest of the government can do without payment for a while, aren't you shutting down FDA inspections? While doing this, aren't you panicking the markets and lowering consumer confidence?

Why, yes. So, let's try it again!

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.