Saturday, July 9, 2011

Debt ceiling nuclear option: the Constitution?

Oh the debt ceiling, the center of all political discussion and debate right now in Washington. But the strange thing is that was never the case in the past. When the debt ceiling was being reached before, Congress would just pass a bill to raise it. The Republicans had no problem doing it when they had control of Congress while Bush was in office, but suddenly since a Democrat is living in the White House, Republicans want to hold our nation’s economy hostage. They do this while threatening default unless some major cuts are made to programs that they hate, Social Security and Medicare and refusing to raise taxes on the richest 1%, despite the American people wanting to see taxes go up on the rich and even a group of millionaires wanting to see taxes go up for them (, Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength). The president has set a deadline of August 2 that the deal must be passed in order to prevent the government from defaulting on its obligations, but is it really necessary, is the debt ceiling actually legal? Not according to some political and constitutionally analysts.

Known as the “Constitutional option”, some analysts are saying that if a deal doesn’t pass that the President likes, he can invoke 14th amendment declaring the debt ceiling unconstitutional and just move on. It seems simple enough. Section 4 of the 14th Amendment states, “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.” In other words, nobody can deny the debt of the country or place limits on it that would force the nation to default on the debt. It’s a daring option to pull and will without any doubt face some backlash from Conservatives, although it’s ironic since the Tea Party wing of the GOP pushes for a strict interpretation of the Constitution and to always defend it. Basically, the Democrats were able to out-Tea Party the Tea Party by finding something legitimate from the Constitution to argue with.

As with anything with the Constitution though, there is debate over whether this nuclear option can be used. Some scholars argue that the interpretation Democrats are using is not what was intended. If that’s the case, what was the intention then? No one really knows since none of us were there when this amendment was written after the Civil War. However, the Constitution is a fluid document as we have come to find out; it’s meaning changing with the times. There is also the argument that the Democrats intention with this option is taking the 14th amendment too far and out of context.

Should this option be used? I don’t see why not. The worst that can happen is that the Supreme Court strikes it down as unconstitutional. The best that can happen is that it blows Republicans’ plan to destroy entitlements out of the water and gives a huge victory to the Democrats, making them look like geniuses for outmaneuvering the GOP. Will it happen? We’ll have to wait and find out.

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