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What Will Unions Do With the Debt Limit?

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Remember that the last time the government shut down because Republicans decided to hold the global economy hostage to push its far right agenda, it ended after airline workers finally got sick of working for no money and began talking about strikes and air traffic controllers just stopped showing up. It took about 5 minutes once a few flights got delayed. So defaulting on the debt limit isn’t quite like a government shutdown, but it is going to do much of the same things. And since the government will have to rely on incoming revenue, the chances of workers not suffering here is very low. So what will government workers do? Suffer through weeks to months of not getting paid again?

The National Association of Government Employees is getting proactive about this.

A union for U.S. federal government employees filed a lawsuit on Monday claiming a law setting a $31.4 trillion debt ceiling is unconstitutional as political leaders seek to avoid a historic default expected as soon as next month.

The National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) says the debt limit law adopted in 1917 violates the U.S. Constitution’s separation of powers because it forces the president in the event of a default to cut spending already authorized by Congress.

The union is seeking to strike down the law setting a debt limit and to block the Biden administration from limiting borrowing in the event of a default so it can continue funding government agencies.

The lawsuit names Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen as defendants. A spokesman for the Treasury Department declined to comment. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. reached its debt limit in January, and Yellen at the time told Congress that she would suspend investments in federal government workers’ retirement and health benefit funds to avoid an immediate default. Yellen has warned that the U.S. could run out of cash to meet its obligations as early as June 1.

The union, which represents 75,000 government workers, said in Monday’s lawsuit that its members have already been harmed by Yellen’s extraordinary move. A default would further harm government workers by triggering furloughs and layoffs, the union said.

I would not overlook the labor movement as a key player in this debt limit issue. Unions could raise the stakes for everyone very quickly here. And I hope they do.

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