Or at the least, think about it.
At a time when conservatives and their Republican Party have become aggressive to the point of emulating kamikaze pilots, and irrational in ways the democratic process cannot accommodate through its usual functioning, the reasonable and responsible course for a Democratic president of the United States may well be to enforce a modicum of sanity through legitimate and legal recourse.
I’m referring of course to the much discussed presidential option of invoking the 14th Amendment of the Constitution to prevent default, essentially making an interpretation that there is presidential constitutional authority, and in fact presidential responsibility under the 14th Amendment to stop the nation from defaulting. Doing so would not challenge the legitimacy of the debt ceiling law itself, but would assert that Congress, by failing to raise the limit is violating the Constitution, and that the president must carry out the country’s obligations.
To say that no legal consensus exists on exactly what the President’s legal and Constitutional prerogatives are is a supercalifragilistic understatement. Throw a rock and hit a Constitutional scholar (don’t try it at home just for fun) and you’ll get a different scenario for the proper and improper ways the President may proceed.
As far as I can tell, only three things are fairly certain, or agreed upon: 1.) the Treasury must use all the money at its disposal to pay out interest before seeking other sources. 2.) Though it is unlikely Congress or anyone else has standing to take the president to court, his actions would require later retroactive approval by Congress, or could be determined illegal. 3) Congress can impeach the President if they believe there is a case he has acted in violation of law.
So obviously, it isn’t something to be glibly undertaken. However, the consequences of actual default are so egregious and acute for the country and for its people, that presidential action seems compelled. And in fact…and about this there is little disagreement, the President does have emergency authority under the Constitution to protect the country from harm, and this surely would be a case where he would be operating under those emergency powers and against the threat of true harm.
Politically and legally, it would unleash holy hell,no doubt. On the other hand, isn’t that what the current radical right, if not officially controlling the Republican majority in the House, but in fact controlling it, has been doing already? Certainly according to the 14th Amendment, those adamant members of the House who say they will not vote to raise the debt limit under any circumstances are behaving in direct contravention of Section 4. And legalese and Amendments aside, is there any doubt the Republican membership of the House of Representatives is following an extreme, absolutist course, and by their own declamations, are essentially and proudly insurrectionary? It’s time to take them at their word, at long last, and react accordingly, and exactly appropriately.
This is why, in my view, Obama should at least begin discussing this option with the American people. It emphasizes exactly how serious a matter debt default truly is, and how recklessly congressional Republicans are behaving. Obama should not forfeit the opportunity, and the responsibility, to point out what a drastic break from historical precedent the Republicans’ current behavior is, the nature of their threat, their intransigence in negotiations, and most importantly, their ideological absolutism and irresponsibility. And aren’t the latter exactly what the last two years in America really have been about?
Clearly, my urging the President to discuss the Amendment is more political than legal: in fact, the President already has begun the process of waging a political campaign to put himself in good standing with the American people should default occur, and to cast the Republicans as the intransigent extremists they in fact are.
It is being said by some that Obama has rope-a-doped the Republicans by proposing enormous budget cuts, and forced them to publicly reject them because of the inclusion of the increases in revenue, hence, calling the sincerity of their desire for deficit reduction into question. The move likewise has highlighted the rigidity and unreasonableness of Republicans’ position. Given that, invoking the Constitutional options would simply be in furtherance of the political course the President already is on.
I’m certainly not expecting the President’s public hinting at his possible future actions will have any material effect on this intemperate and fanatical bunch of Republicans. If anything, it may incite them more. But since they need little incitement the rest of the year, why not recognize you’re in a fight and actually fight?
If the choice is between a harmful and irrational budget deal that both damages and goes against the wishes of the American people, and invoking the Constitution to mitigate harmful and irrational congressional action, then the latter seems the correct course, at least if the interests of the American people are paramount.
Power to the Executive!