There has been a very slow, but steadily increasing, argument on the left that conservatives should pay heed to. Liberals are suggesting that the President should invoke the 14th Amendment to ignore the debt ceiling, and spend the way the White House wills.
The argument has become more prevalent as we get closer to the August 2nd ‘doomsday’. It was most pointedly noted by Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner in an interview several weeks ago. In actuality, it was proposed even earlier, by Bruce Bartlett in late April 2011.
More recently, ultraliberal Katrina vanden Heuvel made a similar argument that goes something like this: Section 4 of the 14th Amendment, which says that “the validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned.” The left’s convoluted understanding of the amendment then argues that Congress cannot default on any debt, because of this passage, and thus the President has constitutional grounds to ignore the debt ceiling all together.
First and foremost, it is quite laughable to have liberals point to the strict reading of any amendment of the Constitution (can you say ‘2nd Amendment’?). But that belies the point that the 14th Amendment actually was much more specific in its scope than these liberals would have you believe.
Section 4 of the 14th Amendment, which you will note the liberal authors conveniently dismiss, states the following in toto:
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.
That appears to be a much more specific and targeted amendment. A more in depth reading of the discussion over the passage of the 14th Amendment points to a simple fact: the amendment was never to convey the power to the President to simply ignore Congressional spending powers. It was, in actuality, an amendment written to prevent political blackmail by using the debt to damage political enemies (in this case, those made during the Civil War).
Furthermore, no one in this current political climate is questioning the validity of the debt. They are question how to pay it. And in fact, even if the debt default day were to pass, the debt would not be defaulted on. What would be at risk is payments for government programs. This would initially include discretionary spending, and ultimately spread to nondiscretionary items such as Defense, Social Security and Medicare. But at no point in time is anyone dismissing the validity of the debt we have accrued.
Ms. vanden Heuvel does make one point which should scare Republicans…that Obama would be on strong legal footing, at least initially. There are numerous Supreme Court rulings, including Freytag v. Commissioner (1911), where the Court has held that the president has “the power to veto encroaching laws. . . or to disregard them when they are unconstitutional. It is doubtful that such a broad interpretation would stand up in this current Supreme Court. However, in the interim, who would stop Obama?
The answer is simple, but not politically pleasing: Impeachment. Moe Lane at RedState was the first that I saw to float the idea, but I think the prospect was looked over too quickly.
The Oath of Office, taken at the time of the inauguration, is clear:
“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
A pure reading of the Constitution leaves all decisions of the purse to Congress. This is the most everlasting of Congressional powers. For the President to ignore this most sacred power of the legislature is to spit on the essence of what the Constitution stands for: a document that ensures no tyranny, by the power of checks and balances.
If this simply a bargaining too which is supposed to threaten conservatives, threat of impeachment should get liberals attention. And Obama’s. If they believe we conservatives are truly the ‘wack jobs’ that the press makes us out to be, then impeachment is definitely in the cards.
Politically, I am not a huge fan of impeachment. It did the Republican Party no favors when we impeached Clinton. But sometimes, the Constitution demands it. I hope it never gets to that point, because politically it would damage Republicans for generations to impeach the first African American President. But sometimes, one cannot avoid the inevitable. We should raise the specter of impeachment now, and prevent the crisis all together. I don’t want to impeach Mr. Obama, but ignoring the Constitution cannot be ignored.
This has been cross posted on Neoavatara.