Thursday, July 28, 2011

The 14th Amendment: In Him We Trust

There are now more calls for President Obama to invoke what they are calling a “nuclear option” for the debt crisis using the 14th Amendment to simply raise the debt ceiling on his own. For the uninitiated they are talking about Article 4 of the 14th, the whole text reads as such:

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.The bold emphasis is mine, because this is the part they keep emphasizing. The notion is that the debt of the U.S. is valid and not to be questioned; the President in Article II Section 3 of the Constitution states “he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed”; therefore the President is duty bound to simply raise the debt ceiling on his own to meet all the constitutional obligations of his office. Simple, right? What these geniuses never mention of course is Article 5 of the 14th, the part that comes outside of their ellipses:

The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.The Congress, not the President, has the power of enforcing the provisions of this article, including Article 4, through legislation. Had the writers left out that bit you might possibly have an excuse for this nuclear option, but that is doubtful. The Constitution is awfully clear on this point, Congress runs the finances of this country, and the 14th does not alter this point. If you want to spend the peoples money, you have to go through Congress, and more specifically it must start in the people’s house.
It must be nice to have such overwhelming faith in one person. Back in the day Senator Obama stood on the floor of the Senate and had one of his grand little speeches about the debt ceiling and a “failure of leadership”. If W. had simply said “I’m a gonna raise that there debt thingy on my own” what would have been the reaction of these constitutional scholars and legislators calling for unilateral executive action today? You already now the answer to that question. The same counter-arguments and threats of impeachment would have been screamed high and low. Each side and their talking points would have been completely reversed, just switch the bylines in the articles and name banners on the cable news channels. The script would’ve been exactly the same. There in lies the ideological inconsistency of both these groups. How often in any policy debate have you seen the ideologue take refuge in “well when they had power they did it too” which is the highest art form of two wrongs make a right. They like to use the constitution as a prop. They are willing to either shred or embrace it depending on what is needed to advance their agenda.
The point of the Constitution is to create a national government strong enough to deal with national problems, yet limited enough to protect the liberty of the people. If they make the case today that the Executive can simply borrow and spend money on a larf, with no input from congress, what are they going to do when they are out of power and their political antithesis is about to do the same? Will they acknowledge they opened this can of worms? Will they stand there with a straight face and say it is different because it is the other guy? Is there any hope for the Republic if we all just say sure Mr. President, spend whatever you want? The point of all this garbage talk is to present an alternative to force the Republicans to do something in line with the President’s wishes, pass a debt ceiling increase through the 2012 election with no actual cuts in spending (meaning spending less money next year than last instead of having less of a budget increase than you expected). There is (at the moment) no real chance of this option being exercised, what is scary is how easily people who supposedly know something are willing to throw their weight behind this. To say and believe that your guy is smart enough and disciplined enough to make these decisions on his own, with no oversight, and we should just trust in him is terrifying. Emergencies are tough things to deal with, even manufactured ones like this, but flushing the whole system away on a leap of faith is even harder to swallow. Presidents have gained far too much power in our system in the last 75+ years, and we have come to look at the office in very unrealistic terms. Every problem, crisis, and emergency brings focus on the President and how that individual will personally lead us out of said issue. To provide the President with the unwritten power to simply create debt would be one more step towards making Congress, and ourselves, completely irrelevant.


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