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Reich reports: "Anyone who thinks congressional Republicans will roll over on the debt ceiling or gun control or other pending hot-button issues hasn't been paying attention."

Portrait, Robert Reich, 08/16/09. (photo: Perian Flaherty)
Portrait, Robert Reich, 08/16/09. (photo: Perian Flaherty)

Debt Ceiling and Guns, Using Presidential Authority

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog

10 January 13


nyone who thinks congressional Republicans will roll over on the debt ceiling or gun control or other pending hot-button issues hasn't been paying attention.

But the President can use certain tools that come with his office - responsibilities enshrined in the Constitution and in his capacity as the nation's chief law-enforcer — to achieve some of his objectives.

On the debt ceiling, for example, he might pay the nation's creditors regardless of any vote on the debt ceiling - based on the the Fourteenth Amendment's explicit directive (in Section 4) that “the validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned.”

Or, rather than issue more debt, the President might use a loophole in a law (31 USC, Section 5112) allowing the Treasury to issue commemorative coins - minting a $1 trillion coin and then depositing it with the Fed.

Both gambits would almost certainly end up in the Supreme Court, but not before they've been used to pay the nation's bills. (It's doubtful any federal court, including the Supremes, would enjoin a President from protecting the full faith and credit of the United States).

Or consider guns. As Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday, “there are executive orders, executive action that can be taken” that don't require congressional approval.

The President probably needs new legislation to reinstate a ban on the sale of military-style assault weapons, stop the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips, and require background checks on all gun buyers.

But he has wide authority to use gun laws already on the books as the basis for regulations or executive orders strengthening gun enforcement.

There's ample precedent. After a mass school shooting in Stockton, California, in 1989, George H.W. Bush issued an executive order, pursuant to the 1968 Gun Control Act, that banned imports of certain assault weapons unless used for sporting purposes. Years later, Bill Clinton by executive order banned imports of almost five dozen different assault weapons that had been modified to get through that “sporting purposes” exemption. President Obama could go even further.

To take another example, the National Firearms Act of 1934 gives a president broad powers to oversee gun dealers. By executive order, the President could tighten that oversight.

Under his law-enforcement authority the President could also issue executive orders improving information sharing among state and local law enforcement authorities about illegal gun purchases, tracking gun buyers' history of mental illness, and maintaining data on gun sales for longer periods.

The Administration has already issued a regulation designed to prevent sales of semi-automatic rifles to Mexican drug cartels. It requires stores in states bordering Mexico to notify federal law enforcement officials when someone buys two or more of a particular type of high-caliber, semi-automatic rifle with a detachable magazine. That regulation, too, could be expanded upon.

No doubt such executive orders and regulations would be challenged in the federal courts (the regulation on semi-automatic rifles is now in a federal appeals court that's expected to rule on its legality within the next few months).

But it's a fair argument that when the nation is jeopardized - whether in danger of defaulting on its debts or succumbing to mass violence - a president is justified in using his authority to the fullest.

The mere threat of taking such actions - using the President's executive authority to pay the nation's bills or broadly interpret gun laws already on the books - could be useful in pending negotiations with congressional Republicans.

They have not shied away from using whatever means available to them to get their way. The President should not be reluctant to play hardball, either.

Robert B. Reich, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock" and "The Work of Nations." His latest is an e-book, "Beyond Outrage." He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. your social media marketing partner


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+25 # davidr 2013-01-10 12:46
We need gun control laws passed by Congress. Period. The only way to get those laws is to elect legislators who will vote aye and to defeat the nays.

Executive orders can control certain executive branch functions, sometimes with great effect, such as Truman's desegregating the military, but they aren't going to mean a thing when it comes to the private use and possession of guns.

If another assault weapon were never manufactured or imported, if every gun dealer were made to comply punctiliously with the rules, if federal prosecutors worked exclusively on gun crimes, there will still be enough assault weapons (let alone Saturday night specials) in the domestic market to sustain the current rate of violence for generations to come.

No. Do what you think best, Mr. President, but this is between the NRA and the rest of us. Who will our representatives represent?
+5 # Regina 2013-01-11 11:12
That depends on who's buying them. We need to get our elections out from under the "weight" of money.
+4 # bigkahuna671 2013-01-11 17:57
You're right, David, but the fact is that so many of our GOP (and many Dems) congresspeople are owned, lock, stock, and barrel by the NRA and the Gun Lobby. They make so much under the table that you won't find them worrying about the people they're supposed to be representing, just the folks who pony up the money to buy them.
+18 # reiverpacific 2013-01-10 12:52
Oversight should be on not only gun dealers but gun shows, where, if I recall a'right, no background check is required.
And then there are yard, garage and estate sales as well as 900 types of guns not covered by any Feinstein legislation pending.
What more do they want?
It's like a leaky barrel for Gawd's sake.
I have no comments on the Debt ceiling as an economic dim bulb but anything the current Rethug' "No" club wants must go down as economic blackmail.
-35 # RICHARDKANEpa 2013-01-10 12:58
Perhaps cigarette smoking could be banned and those who bring in cigarette or grow tobacco under grow lights spend the rest of their lives in prison. If someone feels they might be shot unless they get a gun to protect themselves with are more determined to get them then if they wanted a cigaret. Someone could lose his right to get another gun simply because someone reported him beating up his girlfriend. Then she could go to jail for him forcing her to buy him one and their kids raised by foster care. However since Switzerland with a militia has strict laws when it comes to foreigners. The NRA should cooperate with keeping them out of Mexico. Also the US should cooperate with the efforts of others to stop the US from pouring arms into Afghanistan, the Middle East and Bahrain.
-30 # James Marcus 2013-01-10 13:04
All a Joke. Moot, as they say.
The President is a killer, and a Constitutional Violator. The Congress are (mostly) Bickering Thieves, and they are proving it.
Wake up to The Charade our 'Government' has turned into
+4 # Regina 2013-01-11 11:15
The Republican Party and its assorted pimps are the "killer" and the "violator" and their lobbyists are the thieves.
+7 # OldSalt 2013-01-10 13:07
I believe that if the Constitution were followed as the "Founding Fathers" wrote it then there would be no need for Executive Orders for paying the US debts or Gun Control Laws. However, we have a Congress and a President who have repeatedly not only ignored, "Just that piece of paper" to quote George W. Bush but have violated it repeatedly. The unconstitutiona l FISA(4th Amendment), NDAA(5th,6th and 14th Amendments) and the PATRIOT ACT (1st and 4th Amendments )were passed by over 90% of both Democrats and Republicans. Just what would be left of the Bill of Rights if the Second Amendment were repealed?

Here is a solution to both problems. Want less violence in the World and less debt then stop all the Wars on everything and reduce our Military budget to half of what it is now - Just Do it NOW!

All we can do to rid ourselves of these "traitors" who violated their "Oath of Office" is to vote them out. Yes, you could impeach the President but his accomplices in Congress can not be impeached-only voted out.
+11 # MainStreetMentor 2013-01-10 13:09
Well ... let's hope that what Mr. Reich has outlined above is in whole, or in part, implemented by the President. If so, then at least some issues can be put to rest - if not, then without a doubt we'll know where this President stands with regard to the people of this country.
+13 # humanmancalvin 2013-01-10 13:25
Executive orders from this president would flip the wigs of the radical right. Get to flipping Mr. President.
+10 # mdhome 2013-01-10 13:58
There is no need for removable clips on any rifle used for hunting. A friend of mine regularly got his deer with 1 shot, he never used more than 1 that I am aware of and was very successful.
+2 # Regina 2013-01-11 11:16
There are far more shooters going after dears than deers.
+1 # MidwestTom 2013-01-10 16:41
I just received a map with the names and home addresses of all illegal gun owners in the United States. Too large to include.
+8 # RicKelis 2013-01-10 17:45
FYI --
from WikiPedia:
Possible methods of bypassing the debt ceiling
* Fourteenth Amendment: Section Four of the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution states that the validity of the public debt shall not be questioned...
* Minting coins in extremely high denominations: a US$5 trillion coin could be minted and deposited with the Federal Reserve and used to buy back debt, thus making funds available.
* Monetizing gold; The Secretary of the Treasury is still authorized to monetize 8,000 tons of gold, with a market value worth over $1,600 per ounce.
* Converting fractional reserve to full reserve banking: the debt could be eliminated by raising bank reserve requirements, converting from fractional reserve banking to full reserve banking.
Paul Krugman and Robert Reich have called attention to a couple of these possible methods of bypassing the debt ceiling.

From a Huffington Post article,"14th Amendment Debt Ceiling Option: House Democrats Support Obama's Use Of Power,"
"Rep. Peter] Welch...said he understood that the president might not want to embrace the 14th Amendment alternative at this point, when it might appear to be a power grab. But 'if there is the ultimate act of congressional irresponsibilit y by having the United States default on its obligations, we encourage the president to rescue the country.' He said ultimately the courts would have to decide what authority the amendment confers on the president."
Sounds good to me.
+5 # jhadstate 2013-01-10 18:23
Jay Carney said today that the President would not use the commemorative coin to avert the debt ceiling limit. That means he wants a negotiated settlement. That means that my Social Security check won't cover all my expenses for the month anymore. I guess it's back to catfood. It also means that my Medicare will cover even less than it does now. So I will be skipping visits to the doctors, skipping some of my insulin injections (no, I'm not overweight) and tolerating enormous amounts of pain because I won't be able to afford the medication for my diabetic neuropathy. So I guess my father was right. He always told me: Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. And I wish people would stop calling it entitlements unless they make it clear that it is something that I have earned and I am entitle to receive. I have paid into both programs for over 40 years. I would have a pension, but the Wall Street crooks that the President refused to prosecute made sure that I don't even have that.

As for the gun regulations, do you really think he is going to do anything about that? Those tears were for show. The Democratic Party has no more interest in preserving the social safety net than the Republicans do. They just know how to do a better sales job and keep their mouths shut instead of telling the world what they are really doing. It's time for 3rd and 4th parties. And this from a guy who has voted Democratic in every election, local or national, since 1970.
-3 # robniel 2013-01-10 23:25
And on top of all that the sky is falling!
+1 # Rick Levy 2013-01-11 00:03
"The Administration has already issued a regulation designed to prevent sales of semi-automatic rifles to Mexican drug cartels. It requires stores in states bordering Mexico to notify federal law enforcement officials when someone buys two or more of a particular type of high-caliber, semi-automatic rifle with a detachable magazine"

These are the very weapons that need to be outlawed on the U.S. side of the border. F**k the NRA. Congress needs to serve the American people, not the gun nuts lobby.
+4 # RLF 2013-01-11 07:03
What a joke our government has become. To even think that minting a trillion $$ coin is a serious solution that won't make the rest of the world believe we have lost our ability to govern ourselves just as much as a default. Maybe time to call the republican bluff and allow them to destroy the economy of the world. This may be the only way to destroy the fictional mythology that they have thought up and insist will save us...let's see how much faith they have in their mythology. O. won't do anything like the $t coin...he'll just give them what ever they want because he is Chicago/milton Freidman just like the Repubs. The bunch of them make me want to puke.
+5 # granny6 2013-01-11 13:08
I just wish the heads of the NRA and other gun huggers could see what was done to those 20 children. They were shot multiple times, not just once, with ammo that was designed to cause great internal damage. Or to put in clearer terms did you ever see what is left of a deer when it is hit by a semi? That is about what was left of them. 20 closed coffins, 20 beautiful lives destroyed and families who will never get over the tragedy. And then the coward took his own life so he didn't have to face the consequences. There is no need for these kind of weapons in everyday society. Grow up America, we left the wild West years ago, I hope.

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