As 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:
The 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 telegraph 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.