Republicans Are Awfully Close to Violating the Constitution

Who cares if President Obama has 14th Amendment obligations? The critical sentence in that block of text should be read as instruction for lawmakers first, and last.

Speaker of the House John Boehner speaks at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, October 8, 2013.
National Journal
Kristin Roberts
Oct. 8, 2013, 2:26 p.m.

Have Re­pub­lic­ans for­got­ten that they too must abide by the Con­sti­tu­tion?

The doc­u­ment is ex­pli­cit in its in­struc­tion to Amer­ica’s fed­er­ally elec­ted of­fi­cials ““ make good on the coun­try’s debts. “The valid­ity of the pub­lic debt of the United States,” the 14th Amend­ment states, “shall not be ques­tioned.”

This is not some ar­cane bib­lic­al ref­er­ence that needs to be trans­lated from scraps of parch­ment. In fact, its pur­pose and in­tent are fairly well doc­u­mented.

The amend­ment is the product of a post-Civil War Con­gress that wanted to be sure the coun­try would not be saddled with Con­fed­er­ate debt, and that the debts of United States would be honored. Then, as now, this prom­ise writ­ten in­to the Con­sti­tu­tion offered cred­it­ors con­fid­ence that lend­ing to Amer­ica ““ in­deed, in­vest­ing in Amer­ica ““ would be safe.

“Every man who has prop­erty in the pub­lic funds will feel safer when he sees that the na­tion­al debt is with­drawn from the power of a Con­gress to re­pu­di­ate it and placed un­der the guard­i­an­ship of the Con­sti­tu­tion than he would feel if it were left at loose ends and sub­ject to the vary­ing ma­jor­it­ies which may arise in Con­gress,” ar­gued Sen. Ben­jamin Wade, a Re­pub­lic­an sup­port­er of the amend­ment.

In­deed.

Now, however, con­ser­vat­ives op­posed to a debt-ceil­ing in­crease ar­gue that the 14th Amend­ment ap­plies to old debt, not debt that will be taken out in the fu­ture. Of course, that is true. Also true, however, is that the debt Amer­ica sells today is used to make pay­ments due on already as­sumed li­ab­il­it­ies ““ the very debt pro­tec­ted by the Con­sti­tu­tion. (Amer­ic­ans by and large don’t un­der­stand this either, think­ing er­ro­neously that pro­ceeds from new debt sales are used to pay for fu­ture spend­ing.)

Old-school Re­pub­lic­ans ““ the tra­di­tion­al, “main­stream,” and pro-busi­ness ones (re­mem­ber them?) ““ dis­agree with the set now run­ning the House. Bruce Bart­lett, former of­fi­cial un­der Ron­ald Re­agan and George H.W. Bush, on Tues­day took is­sue with the GOP’s will­ful dis­reg­ard for the grav­ity of the situ­ation at hand. “What we know for cer­tain is that we will be in un­charted wa­ters,” Bart­lett wrote in The New York Times’ Eco­no­mix blog. “And giv­en that United States Treas­ury se­cur­it­ies are es­sen­tially the found­a­tion upon which the en­tire world fin­an­cial sys­tem rests, those are dan­ger­ous wa­ters in­deed. Only a fool would enter them if they could be avoided.”

So set aside the tired de­bate over wheth­er Pres­id­ent Obama should uni­lat­er­ally raise the debt lim­it. In­stead re­mem­ber that Con­gress too is bound by that amend­ment.

What hap­pens if Con­gress doesn’t act? Some opine, prob­ably cor­rectly, that the House will im­peach Obama if he moves uni­lat­er­ally on the debt ceil­ing after the House de­clines to act. But oth­ers ar­gue that if the House does noth­ing, and Obama re­fuses to step in, im­peach­ment would then in­deed be ap­pro­pri­ate.

“Obama should be im­peached if the Con­gress al­lows a de­fault and he does noth­ing,” said Sean Wil­lenz, a Prin­ceton Uni­versity his­tory pro­fess­or who has ar­gued the mer­its of 14th Amend­ment ac­tion. “The pres­id­ent has taken a sol­emn oath to pre­serve, pro­tect, and de­fend the Con­sti­tu­tion of the United States. If he does not act in re­sponse to a blatant vi­ol­a­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion, then he will have vi­ol­ated his oath, and de­serve to be im­peached.”

What We're Following See More »
AFFECTS NOVEMBER ELECTIONS
North Carolina Voter ID Law Struck Down
2 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday overturned North Carolina's 2013 voter ID law, saying it was passed with “discriminatory intent." The decision sends the case back to the district judge who initially dismissed challenges to the law. "The ruling prohibits North Carolina from requiring photo identification from voters in future elections, including the November 2016 general election, restores a week of early voting and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds, and ensures that same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting will remain in effect."

Source:
NORTH DAKOTA TO ILLINOIS
Massive Oil Pipeline Approved for the Midwest
3 hours ago
THE DETAILS

An oil pipeline almost as long as the much-debated Keystone XL has won final approval to transport crude from North Dakota to Illinois, traveling through South Dakota and Iowa along the way. "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the final blessing to the Dakota Access pipeline on Tuesday. Developers now have the last set of permits they need to build through the small portion of federal land the line crosses, which includes major waterways like the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers. The so-called Bakken pipeline goes through mostly state and private land."

Source:
DISAPPOINTING RESULTS
GDP Grew at 1.2% in Q2
4 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The U.S. economy grew at an anemic 1.2% in the second quarter, "well below the 2.6% growth economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had forecast." Consumer spending was "robust," but it was offset by "cautious" business investment. "Since the recession ended seven years ago, the expansion has failed to achieve the breakout growth seen in past recoveries. "The average annual growth rate during the current business cycle, 2.1%, remains the weakest of any expansion since at least 1949."

Source:
‘DEMOCRATIC GENERATION’
Schumer: We’ll Take the Senate
5 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Sen. Chuck Schumer, the majority leader in waiting, not only thinks his party will take the Senate this fall, but that it's on the cusp of an era of "electoral dominance." He told Politico: “We’re going to have a Democratic generation. [President Barack Obama] helped create it. But it’s just where America’s moving demographically, ideologically and in every way. We’ll have a mandate to get something done.”

Source:
TAPING IN NEW YORK TODAY
Biden to Guest on ‘Law and Order: SVU’
6 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"Vice President Joe Biden will appear in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit that will mention the backlog of untested rape kits in many cities, as well as efforts to end violence against women—an issue close to Biden, who authored the Violence Against Women Act in 1994." He'll be in New York to tape the episode today.

Source:
×