"Why is the Biden administration trying to rob itself of a clear opportunity to protect American workers and the economy from being roiled by MAGA saboteurs?" asked the head of the Revolving Door Project.
A government watchdog on Thursday called out the Biden administration for attempting to kill a lawsuit filed in May by a union representing about 75,000 workers across U.S. agencies that challenges the federal debt ceiling law.
"Why is the Biden administration trying to rob itself of a clear opportunity to protect American workers and the economy from being roiled by MAGA saboteurs?" asked Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project.
A federal judge canceled plans to hear arguments for the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) case when President Joe Biden and congressional Republicans who were holding the economy hostage announced a negotiated deal to suspend the nation's borrowing limit until 2025—signed into law in early June as the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA).
Biden then ordered his aides to create a working group intended to prevent similar crises in the future. As the White House said last month, "Now that the latest debt ceiling crisis is behind us, it is necessary to explore all legal and policy options to prevent Congress from ever again holding hostage the full faith and credit of the United States."
Now, as Government Executivereported earlier this week, even though "federal employees are still facing the prospect of delayed paychecks when the debt ceiling is reinstated in 2025," the U.S. Department of Justice "asked Judge Richard Stearns of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts to dismiss the case, suggesting the FRA has made the case moot and NAGE members lack standing because their claims are 'wholly speculative.'"
"After calling for just such a case to be brought, the Biden administration now fights it, demonstrating a truly remarkable willingness to shoot itself in the foot."
Hauser said that "the Justice Department's notion that the federal employees' claims of injury are 'wholly speculative, as they depend on a future chain of events that may never occur,' is absurd: The crisis is scheduled to recur precisely on January 1, 2025, as it has recurred repeatedly this century."
"In the meantime, uncertainty continues to trouble hundreds of thousands of federal workers, who have no guarantee of how their jobs, salaries, and pensions will be affected," he noted. "Indeed, the stance that [Attorney General] Merrick Garland's Justice Department is advancing creates an unfortunately sound case against workers considering taking a job in what has become an unstable federal government."
During the drawn-out fight earlier this year, as Republicans in Congress signaled their willingness to force the first-ever U.S. default despite warnings of a resulting economic catastrophe, Biden even suggested that while he wasn't planning to invoke the 14th Amendment—which states that the validity of the nation's public debt "shall not be questioned"—to end the current crisis, he would be open to challenging the debt ceiling law in the future.
"Rather than use the existing case as a means to that end, however, the administration is seeking to have it dismissed. The Justice Department declined to weigh in further on the merits of the case, reducing its argument only to the union's lack of standing," Government Executive explained, noting that a hearing on the motion to dismiss the case is set for August 29.
Hauser said that "after calling for just such a case to be brought, the Biden administration now fights it, demonstrating a truly remarkable willingness to shoot itself in the foot."
"The administration has every authority to take a different tack in this lawsuit and make space for the constitutionality of the debt limit to be worked out in the famously slow-moving U.S. legal system before the clock runs out on preventing the next crisis," he stressed.
The NAGE complaint names as defendants Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in their official capacities.
Biden is seeking reelection next year and is expected to face the Republican nominee; former President Donald Trump is currently leading a crowded field of GOP candidates in spite of his legal issues, including the recent indictment related to his efforts to overturn his 2020 loss, which led to the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Even if Biden wins in 2024 and Democrats keep control of the Senate and regain a majority in the House of Representatives, they may lack the votes needed to extend the suspension or raise the debt ceiling in early 2025. Democratic lawmakers notably declined to take action on the borrowing limit after the last midterm elections, despite warnings that Republicans would use their House takeover this year to hold the economy hostage to extract concessions.