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Two former Iowa congressmen raise questions about legality of “debt ceiling”

(Radio Iowa) – Two former Iowa congressmen who served a combined 66 years in the U.S. House of Representatives say it may be time to get rid of the so-called “debt ceiling” that congress and the president are fighting about today. Former Congressman Neal Smith, a Democrat from Des Moines, says the U.S. didn’t have a “debt limit” until 1962.

“Just do away with it,” Smith says. “…I don’t think the debt limit is legal.”

Smith, who is now 93 years old, began serving in the U.S. House in 1959 and lost his bid for a 19th term in 1994. Smith is “optimistic” this latest partisan showdown may lead to changes in how congress operates.

“Maybe, finally this experience here may have caused people to realize that you should never use the debt limit or what they’re doing to try to change once bill,” Smith says. “It’s just too costly and it won’t work.”

Former Congressman Jim Leach, a Republican from Iowa City, says at some point the courts could be called upon to decide the issue if these sort of debt ceiling stalemates continue.

“I personally think that congress ought to truly review the issue,” Leach says.

Leach, who served as chairman of the House Banking Committee, suggests the “debt ceiling” is being “inappropriately used” are a bargaining chip.

“This is a leadership circumstance. America is expected to lead,” Leach says, “and you cannot lead with a dysfunctional government.”

Leach served 30 years in the House until he lost his bid for reelection in 2006. He is now 70 years old and serving as a visiting professor at the University of Iowa. Leach and Smith made their comments this morning during taping of the “Iowa Press” program that airs at 7:30 p.m. on Iowa Public Television.