The Case Against Ignoring Congress on the Debt Ceiling

All options being looked at as deadline looms

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The federal government is rapidly approaching a potential financial disaster. The federal debt ceiling must be raised  by August 2 or the U.S. will start to default on some its loans. Some have suggested that any law that limits the level of government is itself unconstitutional and urge President Obama to simply ignore Congress and force the Treasury Department to continue to borrow money. (CBS News posted a video Monday arguing that the president could evoke Section IV of the Fourteenth Amendment, which reads that, "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, [...] shall not be questioned.")

But Andrew Grossman at Heritage Foundation's The Foundry disagrees. In a post Friday he outlined why the Fourteenth Amendment solution is not a viable solution to the debt ceiling problem. The Fourteenth Amendment does not imply that the debt ceiling in unconstitutional. Grossman argues that, following the logic that the president has the right to force the treasury to continue to borrow, why could he not force them to raise taxes? He also debunks the notion that the president even has the right to force a continuation:

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.

Grossman fails to adress what might happen if the government doesn't pay their loans back on August 2. He highlights that debt spending accounts for 43 cents of every federal dollar spent, but says that paying the other 57 cents is just forcing the government to, "live within its means."
The constitutional debates could be for naught, provided congress makes a deal on time. This weekend things started to look up, if you're an optimist with these things. Two senior Republicans said Sunday they were opposed to overall tax hikes, but were open to raising new revenue in an effort to close the debate over the debt ceiling. Sen. John Cornyn, from Texas, appeared on Fox News Sunday and said he was open to "eliminating some tax breaks and corporate subsidies in the context of changes in the tax code," according to The New York Times. Cornyn said he was opposed to any tax hike that would take any more money from individuals or businesses that it does now, but he believes that tax reform is absolutely necessary. John McCain appeared on CNN's State of the Union and said that raising taxes was out of the question, but that he was open to garnering revenue in other ways, but then refused to name any. Cornyn did express interest in brokering a mini-deal that would act as an extension on the August 2 deadline if they absolutely had to, so that they could "re-litigate this as we get closer to the election."
The Times goes on to point out that Obama was enraged by GOP lawmakers just last week when they refused to eliminate tax loop holes for "private jet owners, hedge fund managers, multinational oil companies and ethanol producers" that would "save billions of dollars and help fix the short-term federal deficit and long-term national debt."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.