Busted: On the Legality of the Debt Ceiling.Posted: July 4, 2011
More constitution shredding by the Democrats. They accuse the Republicans of shredding the Constitution on a regular basis but it is they who regularly run afoul of its plain and clear intent. They do this by selective reading thereof. Dishonest and self-serving interpretations designed to meet their needs du jour.
The debate over the debt ceiling is no exception. They are selectively quoting the 14th Amendment to the Constitution to further their own political gains and shredding the Constitutional protections it provides in the process.
Their latest theory seems to be that a single cherry picked phrase from the 14th Amendment somehow gives Obama the power to ignore the law and place himself as the supreme authority over the national coffers. To wit they cherry pick the following:
Section. 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
So what exactly is the plain meaning of the highlighted phrases? Simply put, all this says is that there is a national debt and that people cannot simply argue it out of existence. It simply says that the United States Government is authorized to take on debt to meet it’s obligations. That’s it. Period.
This says nothing about who determines when and how much debt can and should be taken on by that government. The problem here is the Democrat slight of hand which is at play. Note that no one has questioned the “validity of the public debt“. No one is arguing that the government cannot take on such debt. No one is arguing that the debt does not exist. And most assuredly no one is suggesting that the debt which has already been taken on should not be repaid with full interest.
It is a straw man argument meant to distract honest citizens from the reality of the situation.
So if this passage is not indicating who is in control of what debt is taken on and when, then how are we to know who the Constitution invests that power in? Well, the Constitution includes a passage to address that very question. This is a passage that the Democrats are selectively ignoring when they make this argument. There is a fifth clause to the 14th Amendment which quite clearly addresses this point:
Section. 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
This seems quite plain in its meaning. It is the Congress who is invested with the authority to control the public debt via appropriate legislation. Legislation like that which establishes the debt ceiling that the Democrats seek to circumvent and whose actions are clearly in conflict with the plain meaning and intent of the text of the 14th Amendment.
Once again we see the Obama Administration for what it clearly is: a rogue and out of control group of Constitution Shredding Cowboys with no respect for the rule of law or for duly authorized Constitutional authority.
It is another shameful day for Democrats.
But it’s not clear that Congress can constitutionally impose a debt ceiling on the President. The debt limit we have now is the legacy of a 1939 law designed to allow the Treasury flexibility to borrow up to a certain limit. But Geithner and a number of constitutional scholars have questioned whether Congress can prevent the president from paying obligations that the government has already incurred. That’s because a passage in the Fourteenth Amendment—designed to prevent Southern politicians from repudiating Civil War debts—stipulates that “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law… shall not be questioned.” What exactly that means is a complicated legal question, but as Jonathan Chait writes, the clause was intended to prevent politicians from using the threat of default for political leverage—which is exactly what Republicans are doing now.