Analysis and Commentary on Tax and Economics

The Next Debt Ceiling Crisis Can Be Prevented If Democrats Learn From Filibuster Reform

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan describes a way in which America can avoid another debt-ceiling crisis in 2014. Indeed, Buchanan points out that there is now a clear political path by which the Democrats could neutralize that threat. Moreover, the Constitution, he points out, is on the Democrats’ side, and their recent experience with the fight over the Senate’s filibuster rules should give the Democrats the confidence they need to move forward.

To Prevent Future Debt Ceiling Crises, President Obama Needs a Plan C

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on a remedy for future debt-ceiling crises: The President, Buchanan argues, can—and should—now forestall any future hostage-taking by making it clear that, rather than failing to pay our bills in full when due, he would be willing to order that we borrow enough money to prevent our defaulting on our obligations. Moreover, Buchanan notes that the President can make the case that doing so honors the notion of individual choice, as he explains.

If the Debt Ceiling Is Reached, the President Will Be Forced to Go It Alone, But the Fed Could Save the Day

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan clarifies how many people’s—including many journalists’—failure to truly understand the context of the impending debt ceiling disaster causes them to misunderstand both the President’s choice between defaulting and not defaulting, and his possible strategies if he chooses to avoid default. Buchanan also explains how the Federal Reserve could play the ultimate savior’s role in the crisis. He also offers a driving metaphor to explain the situation that President Obama faces, and why he may legitimately need to break the rules to solve it.

Germany’s Election Results Are Bad News for the U.S.

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan expresses very strong disagreement with the economic policies of Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, who recently claimed electoral victory. Buchanan contends that Merkel’s policies are bad for Europe, the United States, and the world, and carefully details the reasons behind his conclusions. Though Merkel is little known by Americans, as Buchanan notes, she will surely exert influence on the U.S., so, Buchanan warns, Americans ought to take more notice of her policies and influence.

How to Succeed in Sounding Impressive When Talking about Budgets and Deficits Without Really Trying: Understanding the Degraded Media Environment When It Comes To Reporting and Discussing U.S. Budgetary Matters

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan sharply questions the competence and knowledge of mainstream media figures who cover economic issues. He illustrates his point with examples in which media figures’ uninformed opinions clash with the much better informed stances of economists regarding, for example, key issues such as budgeting, entitlements, deficits, health-care inflation, and the debt ceiling.

The Next Debt Ceiling Debacle: The Republicans Are Setting an Impeachment Trap, and the Democrats Continue to Misunderstand What Is Happening

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan offers a primer on the debt ceiling; describes the trilemma that Washington faces; and explains how the Republicans are setting an impeachment trap, and the Democrats are playing along. Buchanan also comments on how far the Republicans will take this, and spells out some of the possibilities.

The IRS “Scandal” Turned Out to Be a Non-Scandal, But It Might Not Matter: Why It Is Not Just the Right-Wing Echo Chamber That Will Perpetuate the Myth of Political Manipulation of the IRS

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on a number of “scandals” that, more closely examined, did not prove to be genuine scandals at all. Buchanan focuses in particular on what we know now about the alleged IRS scandal, which he deems a non-scandal in the end that is only being perpetuated to gain partisan advantage—given the fact that the IRS, it turns out, used not just right-wing labels, but left-wing labels, too in its searches. Yet Buchanan notes that false claims tend to have a life of their own, and cites several reasons why that is the case.

What Should We Think Now About the IRS? We Are All Paying the Price for Republicans’ Underfunding and Vilifying of the Tax Agency

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan argues that the recent IRS flap should really be considered a non-scandal, for reasons he explains, although he notes that the agency did make a significant mistake regarding conservative political groups. Ultimately, Buchanan urges that we must now give the IRS the tools it needs to once again do its job as well as it has historically. He contends, too, that we will all be better off if Congress puts aside its habitual political grandstanding, and actually allows the IRS to serve the public.

Why Are Republicans Determined to Waste Money on Government? The Upside-Down Logic of Taking Responsibilities (and Funding) Away From the IRS

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on the recent IRS scandal, which he contends is better labeled a “non-scandal” limited to low-level mistakes and mid-level crisis mismanagement. He also covers the current state of the IRS, its role in American life, and the reasons its reach has expanded. Buchanan also warns that if we move the IRS out of its current role, we do so at our peril.

How Did Gay Bashing Become Part of the Debate Over Government Spending and Deficits? Why We Need to Focus on Making Wise Investments in Future Prosperity

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on the recent contention by Harvard history professor Niall Ferguson that famed economist John Maynard Keynes was gay and, for that reason, did not care about the well-being of future generations. Buchanan rebuts this ugly claim on a number of levels; notes similar arguments that cropped up before the Supreme Court in the Prop 8 oral argument; and makes the case that far from ignoring future generations, Keynes had their interests always at heart, and sought to build for them a more prosperous future.

Obama’s Conservative Budget: The White House’s Budget Proposal Should Remove All Remaining Hope That the President is Secretly an Economic Liberal

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan argues that those who believe that President Obama is at heart an economic liberal are dead wrong. Unlike with gun control, which Obama is aggressively pursuing, the President is not, Buchanan contends, actively pursuing the progressive budget that many of those who voted for him might have expected. Buchanan also notes that it seems that the lack of such a budget cannot be laid at the Republicans' door, as indications suggest that Obama himself may not want a truly progressive budget, rather than a centrist conservative one.

Simplistic Slogans and Real Consequences: Republicans’ Calls to Run Balanced Budgets Are Based on Meaningless Bromides, Not Sound Economics

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan takes aim at the popular belief that governments’ budgets should be balanced. Noting that corporations do not have balanced budgets and typically thrive as they take on debt, Buchanan asks why governments should be any different. Borrowing, in both good times and bad, Buchanan contends, is the right thing to do—contrary to Republicans like Paul Ryan’s recent claims. Indeed, Republicans’ arguments in favor of budgetary austerity amount to nothing more than excuses to redistribute income upward, Buchanan contends. He also notes that misunderstandings about the role and significance of government debt are often fostered by the press.

Passing Bad Laws on Purpose: How to Understand the Legal Difference Between the Sequester and the Debt Ceiling

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan explains the difference between the sequester and the debt ceiling. He faults Republicans for manufacturing three artificial political crises: shutdowns, defaults and artificial spending cuts. He also makes clear the differences between unilateral Presidential action and Congressionally mandated arbitrariness when it comes to cuts. Moreover, he raises the following questions: When Congress inflicts pain on Americans on purpose, what, if anything, can the President do? Must he still follow Congress’ laws even then?

Protecting Social Security From an Onslaught of Misinformation: Young People Need to Make Sure That This Essential Program Will Be There to Help Them

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan cautions young people that there is much misinformation in the media, and from some in Congress, now about Social Security, which he urges them to resist. Buchanan counters the misinformation by, first, explaining the basic financial workings of the Social Security program, and then explaining why the aging of the Baby Boom generation will not inexorably harm younger citizens when it comes to Social Security, as some claim. Buchanan also argues that Democrats should not give ground on Social Security, as President Obama has tried to do, because, in the long run, keeping Social Security strong will benefit both the young and the old alike.

The No Budget, No Pay Bill, the Twenty-Seventh Amendment and the Debt Ceiling

Justia columnist and U.C. Davis law professor Vikram David Amar comments on a bill that purports to withhold salary from all members of a House during the time the House has failed to produce a budget. Amar contends that such a bill violates the Constitution’s Twenty-Seventh Amendment, which states that “No law, varying the compensation for the services of Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election for Representatives shall have occurred.” The bill itself purports to comply with the Twenty-Seventh Amendment, but Amar is deeply skeptical about that claim.

Finally, Prominent Economists Are Admitting That the Policy Debate Should Not Focus on the Debt and Deficit: The Folly of Thinking Too Far Ahead

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan argues that today’s policy debates should not focus too far on the future, contrary to Paul Ryan's and others’ arguments. Buchanan notes that leading economists are now increasingly acknowledging that our longtime focus on debt and deficits is no longer appropriate. Thus, Buchanan contends that we need to focus, for instance, on preventing cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid that will definitely harm people, not on long-term forecasts about debt that may or may not prove accurate.

President Obama’s Least Bad Options: Understanding Two Independent Constitutional Justifications for Exceeding the Debt Ceiling, and Exploring Two Ways to Do So

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan continues his ongoing commentary (which has, at times, been co-written with fellow Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf) on how President Obama should handle the debt-ceiling situation. More specifically, Buchanan focuses on what he calls the President’s two least bad options, should he decide to issue debt in excess of the debt ceiling. They are (1) issue new debt as usual, and (2) issue IOUs to the public. Buchanan acknowledges that neither option is without risk, but he points out that those risks exist only because the Republicans in the House have insisted on creating this crisis, and thus the responsibility for any such risk should be laid at their door, not that of the President.

Why President Obama Could Easily Be Impeached Over the Debt Ceiling If Congress Fails to Raise It

Justia columnist and former counsel to the president John Dean discusses the debt-ceiling crisis and how it might play out. Dean notes that if both sides remain adamant in their positions, we will be in unchartered territory, and that President Obama is refusing to negotiate this time around. To make the stakes here clear, Dean describes the impact of failing to raise the debt-ceiling limit. Moreover, citing the work of fellow Justia columnists Neil Buchanan and Michael Dorf, Dean also explains the constitutional and legal problems that will arise if the debt ceiling is not raised, and why its not being raised is a real possibility. Dean also questions whether an out-of-control Congress might even attempt to impeach President Obama if he were to be forced to break the law in order to prevent the U.S. from defaulting, and avert a financial catastrophe.

What Can The President Do When Congress Gives Him a “Trilemma” of Unconstitutional Choices? Understanding Why the President Must Exceed the Debt Ceiling

Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf and Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan argue that, faced with a trilemma of unconstitutional choices, President Obama effectively has no choice but to exceed the debt ceiling, and they explain exactly why that is. Buchanan and Dorf describe why, to honor the Constitution, a President must choose to issue debt in excess of the statutory limit, if the budget otherwise requires him to do so. They also argue that even Republicans in Congress should want the President to issue more debt, if Congress itself is unable to find a way to do its duty and increase the debt ceiling as needed. In their analysis, Buchanan and Dorf also invoke the idea that some choices are more unconstitutional than others; constitutionality, in other words, isn’t just either/or.

A Mismatch Between Tax Politics and Deficit Rhetoric: A Very Bad Tax Deal Is Passed by Politicians Who Do Not Understand the Economics of Deficits

Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan sharply critiques the tax deal that was just passed. Buchanan contends that the big picture here is very different from that painted by Beltway insiders in the run-up to the deal, in important ways. To support his points, Buchanan covers the basics of the deal; points out that merely because both sides were disappointed does not mean that a good deal was struck; and questions the need for the deal in light of the fact that the long-term budget situation looks significantly better than most people think, in part because certain pessimistic assumptions about health-care costs have so far not proven true.

Meet our Columnists

Vikram David Amar
Vikram David Amar

Vikram David Amar is the Dean and Iwan Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Illinois Co... more

Neil H. Buchanan
Neil H. Buchanan

Neil H. Buchanan is an economist and legal scholar and a Professor of Law at The George Washington U... more

Sherry F. Colb
Sherry F. Colb

Sherry F. Colb is Professor of Law and Charles Evans Hughes Scholar at Cornell University. Colb tea... more

John Dean
John Dean

John Dean served as Counsel to the President of the United States from July 1970 to April 1973. Befo... more

Michael C. Dorf
Michael C. Dorf

Michael C. Dorf is the Robert S. Stevens Professor of Law at Cornell University Law School. He has w... more

Joanna L. Grossman
Joanna L. Grossman

Joanna L. Grossman is the Ellen K. Solender Endowed Chair in Women and Law at SMU Dedman School of L... more

Marci A. Hamilton
Marci A. Hamilton

Marci A. Hamilton is one of the country’s leading church-state scholars and the Fox Professor of Pra... more

David S. Kemp
David S. Kemp

David S. Kemp is an attorney and managing editor at Justia. He received his B.A. in Psychology from... more

Joseph Margulies
Joseph Margulies

Mr. Margulies is a Professor of Law and Government at Cornell University. He was Counsel of Record... more

Anita Ramasastry
Anita Ramasastry

Anita Ramasastry is the UW Law Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of... more

Ronald D. Rotunda
Ronald D. Rotunda

Ronald D. Rotunda is the Doy & Dee Henley Chair and Distinguished Professor of Jurisprudence, at... more