Seeking to make virtue out of vice, the political left has launched a desperate, devious and dangerous ploy to prevent the spending cuts that the public demands.
They are laying the groundwork for President Obama to bypass negotiations and ignore the $14.3-trillion statutory ceiling on federal debt. They want him to instruct the Treasury to borrow whatever it needs to satisfy grandiose spending designs, by claiming that the borrowing limit is unconstitutional.
If this happened, it would add a constitutional predicament to our economic crisis. And it would worsen our economic problems.
The left bases their plan on a dangerous misreading of the 14th Amendment. They employ deceptive rhetoric to depict the big spenders as the saviors of the Constitution. They claim it's the Constitutional remedy to protect our economy from the supposed alternative Armageddons of defaulting on debt or devastating reductions in spending.
The left adds that this also would save us from the evil Republicans who won't go along with job-killing tax hikes.
Declaring the debt ceiling unconstitutional and void would be a course reversal for Obama and Treasury Secretary Geithner, who have been claiming that doom is around the corner because of the debt limit. But a reversal would not be the first time Obama has declared his position is "evolving" to match his political interests. Nor would it be the first time Obama claimed a presidential prerogative to ignore laws that he finds inconvenient.
Twice offered a public opportunity to repudiate this horrid idea, Obama has twice refused to do so.
The 14th Amendment idea began quietly percolating on the left a few months ago. As it became clear that they were losing the fight over deficit spending, the left last week began to unveil articles by cooperative law professors, economists, columnists and pundits, covered by CBS News, MSNBC, USA Today, The Washington Post and numerous other outlets. The Huffington Post has been the biggest cheerleader for the plan.
The proponents base their false claim on a selective reading of the 14th Amendment's statement that "the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law ... shall not be questioned." The language was adopted after the Civil War. Because the adjacent passage of the amendment expressly disavows any debts of the former Confederacy, the drafters needed to distinguish this from the valid debt issued by the Union.
Nobody is questioning the validity of our legally-issued debt, nor should they, but the president has no authority to create additional debt that Congress has not approved.
As noted by The Heritage Foundation's Andrew Grossman:
[I]t does not follow that the debt ceiling is unconstitutional. ... Indeed, unilateral action by the President to borrow money would be an unconstitutional usurpation of the legislative power. The Constitution vests the power to "to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States" and the power "to borrow money on the credit of the United States" in the Congress, not the President. The President lacks the authority to, on his own accord, make expenditures which have not been authorized by Congress (because Congress has imposed a debt ceiling that supersedes any such authorizations) or to undertake borrowing that has not been authorized by Congress.
Constitutional expert and former federal appellate judge Dr. Michael McConnell sums up quite simply the notion that the 14th Amendment invalidates the debt ceiling. McConnell eloquently says, "Bunk."
Since 1917, Congress has exercised its control over debt by placing a statutory cap on the total amount that can be borrowed. This is an exercise of Congress' explicit and exclusive Constitutional authority -- as opposed to a drummed-up misinterpretation of the 14th Amendment to create some new presidential power to issue unlimited debt. As noted by the Congressional Research Service, "The debt limit also provides Congress with the strings to control the federal purse, allowing Congress to assert its constitutional prerogatives to control spending."
To sum it all up: as the 14th Amendment states, debt must be "authorized by law." As Article 1 states, only Congress can do that authorizing.
The left's effort to reverse this is desperate, devious and dangerous. They have seen polls showing that 60 to 70 percent of the public oppose an increase in borrowing, so they are desperately trying to preserve big government. Their twisting of the Constitution is devious, and ignoring the debt ceiling would be dangerous to future generations and to today's economy.
Imagine the chaos in financial markets if they could not distinguish Congressionally-approved and valid Treasury notes from presidentially-authorized and questionable debt. The left has a bad answer for this: get the Federal Reserve to buy the new debt. That would mean printing more currency, inflating our money and further devaluing the dollar.
The entire 14th Amendment ploy needs to be shot down and denounced for what it is: another liberal maneuver to bypass both the Constitution and public opinion and to protect big government at all costs.
Adding a constitutional showdown on top of our economic crisis would only make things worse.