To Obama: use the Constitution and raise the debt ceiling

As August 2 is fast approaching, more and more politicians, legal experts and commentators, are urging President Obama, as a last resort, to take matters into his own hands and with reference to the Constitution raise the debt ceiling unilaterally.

After all the negotiations and an intense week in Congress, we are no closer to the compromise that is required, and this weekend’s upcoming votes and continued negotiations do not in any way guarantee a positive outcome for America and the world.

It is at this point of great uncertainty that the possibility for Obama to refer to the constitution and unilaterally raise the debt ceiling surfaced in the debate. It is an interesting alternative, which Obama himself has admitted, but he and constitutional experts do not seem to be really sure if that this is possible way out and if this would be constitutional.

The debate centers on the Fourteenth Amendment’s fourth paragraph, which says:

“The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pension and countries for service in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”

In other words, U.S. government debt must not be questioned. The Amendment came about after the Civil War to prevent the South from cancelling the debt that the Union had incurred.

Jack Balkin, a law professor at Yale University, shows how the Amendment could be used by President Obama on his blog Balkinization, and Ronald Dworkin, a law professor at New York University, asks on the New York Review of Books blog if Congress would act unconstitutionally if it cannot decide to raise the debt ceiling.

This “last resort” has been advocated by a number of leading Democrats led by former President Bill Clinton. The consequences are uncertain but such a decision by Obama could lead to an impeachment process in the House of Representatives. Would Obama be prepared to wage such a fight only a year before the presidential election? That is the question.

Still, Professor Dworkin sees political benefits of such a decision.

“I doubt very many now uncommitted voters would disapprove of a President who acted under a reasonable interpretation of the law to allow the government payments on which they rely to continue, and to prevent damage to our international credit that would inevitably increase their taxes and might well eventually savage their standard of living. “

Michael Tomasky on the Daily Beast realizes the political risks, but adds:

“If Obama moved forcefully and said. ‘I am the president, and I met them here and here and here, and they wouldn’t budge, and I’m finished with them, and now is the time to act,’ I have little doubt that the markets—and the people—would react positively. That would prove that he’s a leader, and it would force him to choose sides. It’s high time he did both.”


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