The Way Out: Obama Could Just Pay U.S. Debts


obama-angry-3As the Tea Party tail that wags the Congressional dog (i.e. the feckless Weeper of the House, John Boehner, and the majority of House Republicans) pushes the nation ever closer to a fiscal meltdown (i.e. failure to raise the debt ceiling causing a default on U.S. obligations), there appears only one clear way out.

President Obama should be prepared to ignore the Congressionally established debt ceiling and on Oct. 17, rely on the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to order the Treasury Department to pay America’s bills.

This is exactly what former president Bill Clinton (the true Big Dog) said he would do during the last near debt-ceiling disaster in July 2011. Clinton said he would unilaterally invoke Section 4 of the 14th Amendment “without hesitation” to raise the debt ceiling “and force the courts to stop me.”

The way back machine: The provision in question was written to ensure the payment of Union debts after the Civil War and to disavow Confederate ones. But its language is much broader:

us-constitutionThe validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payments of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.

The Supreme Court has said, in a passing reference, that those words have outlived the historical moment that gave rise to them.

“While this provision was undoubtedly inspired by the desire to put beyond question the obligations of the government issued during the Civil War, its language indicates a broader connotation,” Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes wrote in 1935.

Legal scholars argue the case both ways: some say the 14th Amendment does not supplant Congress’s role to govern spending, including establishing a debt limit. Others say the Amendment essentially means that a debt limit itself is unconstitutional. Still others say it gives Obama the authority to ensure America’s credit, period.

But just about everyone agrees that it would be difficult for anyone to get a high court to hear a lawsuit against such a move by the president because, after all, who would have standing? With the Democrats in control of the Senate, no joint resolution of Congress seeking to sue would ever pass.

But even if someone were to establish standing – i.e. establish that they were harmed by Obama’s use of the 14th Amendment – it’s unlikely the U.S. Supreme Court would overrule his payment of the debt. Would they want to be responsible for making us a deadbeat nation? We don’t think so.

Nancy’s all in: Although Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, the San Francisco Democrat, and other have urged Obama to keep this option on the table, the president has said he rejects the option. “Our position on the 14th Amendment has not changed,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in January. “And let’s be very clear — Congress has the responsibility and the sole authority to raise the debt ceiling. And Congress must do its job.”

Of course, Obama can’t telegrboehnercryingaph his intention to use the 14th Amendment or else the House Republicans would have no incentive ever to put forth a clean bill to raise the debt ceiling which – just about every vote counter agrees – would pass the House with more than enough GOP votes joining the Democrats.

What Obama should NOT do – despite all the urgings from Washington media elites who keep pressing their false equivalency arguments – is “compromise” with Boehner and his band of economic terrorists. The Democrats have already compromised by accepting the spending limits on the budget that the GOP established. And Obamacare is here to stay.

But Obama should keep the 14th Amendment option available and, if the House Republicans continue to hold the nation’s economy hostage, seize the moment and pay the bills.

If someone sues him after the fact, so what?

BTW: There’s no question that the government shutdown we’re now stuck with is a genuine right-wing conspiracy. Read all about it.

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There are 6 comments for this post

  1. avatar tonyseton says:

    Imagine how much better shape our nation — and the world — would be in if on January 20, 2009, a man with a spine had been sworn in to lead the United States. We would have launched a solar revolution, gotten us out of Guantanamo, brought our troops home from myriad foreign wars, and likely have gotten us a universal single-layer health care system. Instead we sink deeper into a leaderless mire.

  2. avatar Noozeyeguy says:

    My prediction, FWIW:

    On 10/17 or thereabouts, the President invokes the 14th Amendment and unilaterally assumes control of the debt ceiling. Subsequently, he’s impeached in the House, and acquitted in the Senate. And just like that, it’s time for America Votes 2014.

    I think this has been the end game that Cruz and the Tea Party has been envisioning all along; while doubtless it will play well in gerrymandered deep-red districts, I think the overall net effect will be significant (further) damage to the GOP brand.

    Cruz and his crazies may view themselves as Leonidas and his stalwart Spartans valiantly resisting the Persian onslaught at Thermopylae; but they would do well to remember that none of the Spartans survived that battle.

  3. avatar Alan from Berkeley says:

    To coin a word, shouldn’t we be calling the House republicans “econ-terrorists”? Most of the damage will be among the noncombatant civilians, as usual.

    And since when have the Republicans favored paying people for not working? (Ans: when it delays their inevitable defeat.) Add hypocrisy to the list of offenses.

  4. avatar sqrjn says:

    Omg didn’t the press secretary explicitly say that the President does not believe the 14th Amendment gives him the power to ignore the debt ceiling? Are you saying that the President should do something he believes is unconstitutional? It’s not an option. I can not imagine anything more humiliating for the President than having to say that his views have “evolved” on the issue…. except maybe that whole leader of a free people bowing to a foreign King thing.

    • avatar Noozeyeguy says:

      Jay Carney has been quoted as saying exactly that. But, as this excerpt from ABC News (http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2013/10/obama-doesnt-rule-out-using-14th-amendment-to-raise-the-debt-limit/) goes on to say,

      “Pressed about whether he would be willing to take unilateral action to prevent default, the president told the AP that the hopes the fight doesn’t get to that point.”

      So that’s a non-denial denial. I’ve read other analyses that point out that it would be foolish for Obama to telegraph his intentions re the debt ceiling because it could remove any incentive for negotiation by either side. I could easily see Obama saying that he’s been forced to take extraordinary measures due to the continuing intransigence of Congress.

      The bottom line here is, the House GOP is playing with fire. It’s entirely possible that the debt ceiling could be reached and there would be no ill effects, as some are saying; but remember that one’s creditworthiness is predicated primarily on the *perception* that one always pays their debts. Once that perception is shattered, all sorts of irrational behavior can be expected, none of which bodes well for our economic health.

      In theory, you can bang a hand grenade with a hammer and it won’t go off; but why in God’s name would you want to even try?

  5. avatar patwater says:

    Hey there’s also always the trillion dollar coin: http://pixel.nymag.com/content/dam/daily/intelligencer/2013/01/08/08-trillion-dollar-bill.jpg

    More seriously, an unspoken tragedy IMHO is that the politics of Obamacare have gotten to so polarized that thoughtful technocratic tweaks to make the law work are essentially impossible. And looking at some early implementation issues it seems like Congressional oversight (you know actually governing) might be helpful: http://www.bessettepitney.net/2013/10/obamacare-stories.html

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