The 14th Amendment Escape Clause?

Just as Tea Party representatives begin to bring the Constitution back into vogue, primarily to curb the power and spending of Congress, an innovative interpretation of the 14th Amendment floats around the capital, finding enthusiastic supporters amongst advocates of never-ending debt accumulation.

You see, Congress has limited the debt, by law, since 1917. And has raised that limit umpteen times (ten times this past decade). Now that Tea Party Republicans are using the debt limit to negotiate cuts in spending, the pro-spending forces are becoming frantic.

And clever.

Some of them now argue that Section Four of the 14th Amendment would allow the president to raise the debt limit without Congressional permission. After all, “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.”

At first blush this makes some sense, until one realizes that the 1917 law is, in fact, “the authorization” mentioned in the very clause — at which point the argument collapses faster than the integrity of politicians in closed session.

Still, the idea of the Executive Branch interposing between Congress and the people — like “state nullification” interposed, in James Madison’s very words, between the federal government and the people — is worth thinking about. And Congress could reinstate the president’s power to “impound” funds designated by Congress that he judges not authorized by the Constitution.

But you won’t find pro-spending forces advocating that.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

6 Comments so far ↓

  1. Jul
    8
    9:19
    AM
    Ralf Seiffe

    Using the same sort of tortured logic consider this: The amendment authorizes “pensions” which one would think includes Social Security and Medicare. Yet, these liabilities do not appear on the federal balance sheet. Since they do not, are they “authorized” debts of the United States? If they are not on the balance sheet now, when do they become liabilities? And, if they are not liabilities now, how can they be added in the presence of an exceeded debt ceiling? This would seem to mechanically prohibit, rather than excuse, a run-around of the debt ceiling

  2. Jul
    8
    11:26
    AM
    Paul Jacob

    The US Supreme Court has ruled that your Social Security benefits are nothing more or less than Congress decides you get. There’s no contractual obligation. See this old commentary:

    http://thisiscommonsense.com/?p=368

  3. Jul
    8
    1:45
    PM
    Drik

    Not the president’s prerogative to impound funds that Congress spends that are unconstitutional. That duty belongs to the states.
    And they are lax.

  4. Jul
    8
    4:33
    PM
    bruce stark

    This constant fear of Congress smacks of anarchy.
    It may be fiction but Congress is supposed to represent the will of the people who elected them.

  5. Jul
    9
    1:16
    AM
    Paul Jacob

    It is anarchy to express fear of Congress? Really? It’s somehow better to believe the fiction? And just move along?

    Bruce — say it isn’t so!

    Anarchy is what we have far too often. Except it’s an organized “anarchy” of Arrogance and its very good friend, Corruption.

  6. Dec
    27
    7:55
    AM
    Loran

    You’re the one with the branis here. I’m watching for your posts.

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