The idea of circumventing the debt ceiling via the creation of a Trillion Dollar Coin first gained momentum a couple of weeks ago after it was suggested by New York Congressman Jerry Nadler in an interview with Reid Pillifant of Capital new York.
That such an outside-the-box, yet economically sound argument came from Nadler wasn't a big surprise, as Nadler (who represents much of Lower Manhattan) has a history of showing depth in his thinking beyond that of the typical Congressman.
Watching Washington deal with the debt ceiling can be a scary proposition, given the seriousness of the issue, combined with the ignorance, but there are some who get it.
In light of the death of the Trillion Dollar Coin, we caught back up with Nadler to get his take on it, and more broadly what Congress should be doing to help the economy.
On the deficit, he says what virtually no other politician will say, that it's too small: "I think the deficit is not our immediate problem, our immediate problem is unemployment and frankly, I think right now, we should be running a higher deficit, temporarily, to get the economy into high gear."
He also characterized Europe, which has been trying austerity for two years, as a rare real-time economics experiment: "I often say in my speeches, I say, it’s rare in life that you get a controlled scientific experiment. Cause you can’t do controlled scientific experiments with real people, normally. But you have it, and if you grasp the economics of the economic recoveries from 2007 in Europe and the United States, they matched, until 2010, when they start to collapse. And then it diverges, and we keep going up, slowly."
Given the unpopularity of more deficit spending, can the public ever be convinced we need to spend more? Here Nadler blames Obama for ceding too much ground and accepting the GOP premise that spending cuts are needed... "Because when the presidents sets the basic terms of the argument, that defines sort of the outer limit to a lot of extent."
As for the debt ceiling, he's very concerned, and he says the best hope is that Wall Street and big business will simply bring enough pressure on the GOP to wake them up.
Big thanks to BI intern Lisa Mahapatra for transcribing the below Q&A.
BI: What do you think of the coin rejection?
Rep. Nadler: I don’t understand why the president unilaterally disarmed Even if he doesn’t want to use it, why not just keep it in his back pocket, follow what Carney said last week was fine, and let them think, you know, that the threat is there.
Rep. Nadler: He says he’s not going to negotiate, and god knows that I hope he won't, but when it comes to the deadline and they haven’t raised the debt ceiling, what happens then?...I hope he doesn’t negotiate at that point.
BI: So you think he’ll basically have to negotiate, having taken all these off the table.
Rep. Nadler: I don’t know. Because Wall St. and big businesses are going to push very hard on the Republican party not to go into Terra incognita, which terrifies them, and it should terrify them. And the Republicans may cave to that. They may not. I hope they do, and I hope they never get to that point. If we get to that point, it would be very good if we had that, if he had that in his backpocket.
BI: Let’s just take a step back for a minute, forgetting the current debt ceiling negotiations, and what’s your general view, I mean I know like, it seems to me that you have a higher understanding of economics than many congressmen, even the fact that you understood the coin proposal and understood that it wasn’t a joke. What do you think the government’s responsibility right now is, in terms of running deficits instead of stimulating the economy.
Rep. Nadler: I think the deficit is not our immediate problem, our immediate problem is unemployment and frankly, I think right now, we should be running a higher deficit, temporarily, to get the economy into high gear.
We’re in a very slow recovery, unnecessarily so. The deficit has come down from 10.1% percentage in 2009, to 7.1% now, without doing anything. I mean if we could have unemployment down to 5%, which it was in 2005, that would reduce the deficit by 40% by itself. I think this austerity policy of chasing this whole grand bargain thing, I don’t agree with. I don’t think we should be cutting spending at all, except the spending that is really unnecessary, like the military.
And even then, cut that, but increase resourceful (resources) spending. The real reason we have this high deficit we do is because of the counter-Cyclicals, unemployment insurance, food stamps, which is what we’re supposed to do.
I think trying to reduce the deficit right now is wrong, because this position is going to keep the economy in the doldrums and keep the depression going longer and it’s self-defeating.
You look at Europe. I often say in my speeches, I say, it’s rare in life that you get a controlled scientific experiment. Cause you can’t do controlled scientific experiments with real people, normally. But you have it, and if you grasp the economics of the economic recoveries from 2007 in Europe and the United States, they matched, until 2010, when they start to collapse. And then it diverges, and we keep going up, slowly.
BI: Do you think the public could be made to understand this argument. It’s very, economists understand this very well, and the idea that we should be running higher deficits to counteract the slump, but is this a message that can get through?
Rep. Nadler: I think the problem is, it’s practically impossible to get the public to buy that, as long as the president doesn’t. If the president buying into the notion that the deficit is a big problem or that we’re going to have a grand bargain.. Do we revenues as well as cuts, but still do cuts. Very difficult to do against that from the left.
BI: Do you think that the left cedes too much, is that what you’re saying, it cedes too many of the premises of the right about the benefits of cutting spending?
Rep. Nadler: I don’t know, I said from the left meaning... I think the president seems to have ceded the basic argument. And that’s a problem for all of us. Because when the presidents sets the basic terms of the argument, that defines sort of the outer limit to a lot of extent.
BI: Where does your understanding of economics come from, most congressmen don’t grasp the stuff and don’t seem to think about it like this. Why do you understand it so well?
Rep. Nadler: I read a lot, I don’t know.
BI: Who do you like to read?
Rep. Nadler: Who do I like to read? I certainly like to read Paul Krugman, his columns, his blogs. I read, you know various books: currently I’m reading a book, the Donald Bartlett book, The Betrayal American Dream. I’ve read most of Bob Kutner's books.
BI: Are there other people in the congress that sympathize with you? You just don’t hear many politicians talk like this.
Rep. Nadler: There are people who agree. Quite a few people in the progressive caucus that if you look at the progressive caucus budgets, that we vote on every year that we get generally 90 to 100 votes, those budgets either as an alternative democratic budget, we vote the democratic budget and the progressive caucus budget, and subsequent resolutions, those budgets are based on the premises that I’ve been articulating. Based on the fact that we should not be trudging along austerity, that we should be priming the pump and doing straight Keynesian economics.
BI: Do you believe that the US could theoretically have a debt crisis or do you think premise, just the idea that that could happen in the US is incorrect?
Rep. Nadler: I don’t know about could, I assume you could conjure up far-fetched circumstances in which it could occur, but it’s certainly not a likely scenario in the relatively near future. I mean right now, we’re selling our bonds at negative interest rates. I don’t see that.
BI: Now that the coin idea has been taken off the table, you know there’s still some people that think there might be some other loopholes, like the IOU idea. Do you think the White House has any backup options at this point?
Rep. Nadler: I don’t know, I don’t understand. I read something about the IOU thing, I don’t really understand it, I don’t know. They’ve taken the 14th amendment off the table, they’ve taken the trillion dollar coin off the table. The coin, I mean the 14th amendment, I’ve read good constitutional arguments on both sides, and there’s not decent court precedent. But the coin is so clearly legal, so clearly does the job, I don’t understand why they took it off the table, I don’t understand where they are at this point. As I said, I don’t know what actions there are at this point, other than they should have Wall St., big business gets the Republicans backing down.
I should tell you, I am sponsoring a bill, introduced last September, in the last congress, I’m going to reintroduce it this week, on Wednesday, just to repeal the debt ceiling. Because it’s obviously now become a tool of extortion. But we should have done that a long time ago.'
BI: Do you believe that, when the Republicans say that hitting the debt ceiling doesn’t necessarily imply default on interest payments specifically, what do you make of that argument? Do you think prioritization is technically possible?
Rep. Nadler: I don’t know, I’m not an economic expert in the operations of the government to be able to answer that. I do know, I think I read that there were 100 million checks written, I don’t know, that it’s mostly computerized, that even if you wanted it, tried to prioritize it, it’s not going to clear if in fact you physically could. And that may be the case but even so, to say that you’re going to prioritize, to say that you’re not in default if you’re paying the interest on the bonds, but you’re not sending out social security checks, not paying the military, you’re not sending veteran’s benefits, those are defaults on contractual obligations. And legal obligations. I don’t think, the market would look very differently, if you paid the bonds’ interests and you can get away with that for a while, by not paying all the other people, government collapsed and people starved, because they’re not getting social security checks, I suspect that the markets would not brightly on that.
BI: You think the best hope is that big business and Wall Street puts pressure on the Republicans, do you see evidence of that happening in a way you didn’t see in 2011.
Rep. Nadler: Oh yeah, I think we do see evidence that. I don’t think in 2011 anyone took seriously how limiting these people were. I know that now, and i think that they’re beginning to really try to put on the pressure. Whether they, certainly work on people like Boehner, it won’t work on some of these people we’ve seen talk about prioritizing and default and so forth … how that will work out I don’t know.
BI: Thank you.
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