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BY DI READERS | OCTOBER 11, 2013 5:00 AM

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Re: Tilly: A credible threat

In this column, Zach Tilly falls victim to the common fallacy of false equivalence. In fact, the present debt ceiling crisis (and its predecessor in 2011) are different from any previous debt-ceiling negotiations in two crucial ways.

First, contrary to Tilly’s implication, there is absolutely no historical precedent for using the threat of default on the nation’s debt to push through partisan legislation that could not pass otherwise. In 1984, the only “concession” the Democrats demanded was that Republicans had to go on record and vote in favor of the debt-ceiling increase, necessitated by the Reagan administration’s unprecedented budget deficits. In 1989, all partisan amendments were removed from the final debt-ceiling bill and considered separately in order to allow a clean final bill to pass. Contrary to Tilly’s implication, the tax repeal included in the 1989 debt-ceiling bill was not a concession extracted by Democrats from unwilling Republicans but was retained in the bill only because it enjoyed wide bipartisan support and in no way jeopardized the final passage of the bill. The debt-ceiling debates under George W. Bush were similarly devoid of Democratic demands backed up by threats of default.

The second crucial difference is that before 2011, there was no question that defaulting on the debt was not an option. Some congressional Democrats might have voted against a debt-ceiling increase but always with the assurance that the majority would approve the increase and avoid default. This assurance is absent from the present Republican House, several of whose members have stated that a default would not harm the economy or would even be beneficial. Needless to say, such views are rejected by knowledgeable economists, business and financial leaders, and policymakers across the political spectrum.

Therefore, the threat of default is now not only more real than it ever has been in the past, but the concessions demanded to avoid it are far greater than any demanded in the past. Before 2011, it would not have been accurate to describe any debt-ceiling debate as “extortion” or “hostage taking.” But that’s exactly what’s going on now, and that is unprecedented.

Richard Carlson

Re: Free speech the topic of Faculty Council discussion

I do want First Amendment speech rights all the time. I think Professor Bohannan is confused by what that means. You should be able to say whatever you want to. That doesn’t mean you can say anything and expect there to be no consequences. If you get fired from a job because of screaming insults at your coworkers, you can’t appeal the firing on First Amendment rights.

Tenured professors are somewhat insulated from losing their jobs over something they say, which is a valuable fundamental of academic freedom. But even tenured professors can get into trouble if they go too far.

Kent Williams


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