Does the Treasury Dept have to what the speaker of the house says?

So details of the deal Kevin McCarthy made with the MAGA wing of the GOP, in order to get the votes for speaker:

Namely in the event of a debt ceiling impasse he will instruct the Treasury Depr to pay for the bits of government GOP voters like (military, social security) and not the bits they don’t like.

But what affect does the speaker saying that have? Other than way of telling GOP voters “we didn’t mean to shutdown the bits of government you like”. Surely the Treasury Dept will just say “LOL no!”

Unless they are planning to write a law to that effect (which wouldn’t get past the senate or president) is there anything legally binding about instructions given to the Treasury from the house speaker?

The plan is that they will pass a bill through the House. It will not pass the Senate and will not have the force of law. But when they force a debt ceiling crisis, it will give them something to point to and say, “See, seniors, we tried to protect your Medicare!”

Unless it’s phrased as a suggestion, it seems to me that any attempt would run afoul of the separation of powers issue.

Of course, this gives perfect cover for the President also instructing the Treasury on what to spend and what not to spend. And unlike the Speaker, the President can actually give that instruction.

Actually, there’s some debate over whether prioritizing payments during a debt limit crisis is legal or even possible. All of the spending the Treasury does has been authorized and appropriated by Congress with no suggestion or guidance how the spending should be prioritized. It’s not clear that the Executive may create its own criteria for doing so, or how it could develop such criteria.

Also, Treasury officials in the past have pointed out that the Treasury is simply not set up to selectively turn on and off certain categories of spending. The Treasury processes 80 million payments per month. There’s no system in place to prioritize how these funds go out the door.

But if the debt ceiling exists, then it is legal and possible, because it can’t not be. If the treasury isn’t allowed more debt, then it must not spend some of what it was going to spend. What would the process be, for not spending some of what it would spend, if it’s not someone choosing which spending? And if it’s someone choosing, then who else could that someone be, than the head of the executive branch?

All excellent questions! In previous debt ceiling confrontations, Treasury Secretaries of both parties have opposed prioritization as unworkable. All I can say is that it would be completely uncharted waters, and any course of action taken by the Administration would almost certainly be challenged in court.

I did find an interesting article that goes into more detail on the logistical challenges that would be involved in trying to prioritize payments at the Treasury:

Except of course to the extent they prioritize “what’s due right now”.

I forget the exact percentages but nearly all of the money is military and Medicare/Medicaid/Social Security (or just “Medicare” for short). If you prioritize Medicare then you’re not supporting the military and you’re against America. If you prioritize the military and drop Medicare then you’re against seniors. If you try to fund both then you’re against government accountability.

Blowing through the issue as fast as possible is the only way to win, politically. Drawing it out just opens you to criticism.

I assume you’re talking about the entire federal budget here (it’s not clear). If so, you missed one of the biggest items: servicing the current debt. And that’s the one that’ll cause most of the financial pain if it’s not taken care of.

I’m pretty sure that while Congress, specifically the House, has to originate budget bills, the Department of the Treasury reports to the President. In fact, the Secretary of the Treasury is a Cabinet member, appointed by the sitting President.

So McCarthy can say all he wants about how he wants it prioritized, but in the absence of some kind of appropriations bill specifying it that’s passed both houses and been signed into law by the President, his priorities wouldn’t actually hold any weight.