This morning on CBS’ Face the Nation, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) blithely announced that if she were President Obama, she would simply invoke the 14th Amendment to the Constitution and unilaterally raise the debt ceiling:
Well, you ask the Republicans, because we always passed the debt ceiling. When President Bush was president, as he was incurring these massive debts, and the Republicans weren’t saying ‘boo’ at the time. There should be, this is a conversation where there should be no doubt. In fact, if I were president, I’d use the 14th Amendment, which says that the debt of the United States will always be paid.
Just in case Americans missed it, Pelosi left no room for doubt. When host Bob Schieffer asked, “You would just go ahead and do it, you wouldn’t wait for Congress?” she answered, “I would just go do it.”
There is no legal argument that the 14th Amendment allows the President to ignore Congress’ power of the purse strings on incurring debt. The relevant text reads:
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. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
The text of this amendment is clear: no law can be passed which questions the validity of the public debt. But, of course, the debt ceiling does not do that. It merely prevents the government from borrowing more money to pay that debt. Government still carries the debt, and still has to pay it. It just can’t take out a second credit card to do so if the debt ceiling is not increased. (Incidentally, the purpose of the amendment was to prevent Southern states from voting to negate debts incurred by the Union in waging the Civil War against the Confederacy.)
This is even a bridge too far for the Obama administration, which says that the 14th Amendment does not “give the president the power to ignore the debt ceiling – period,” according to White House spokesperson Jay Carney. But Democrat dreams of executive branch tyranny under Obama continue. And why not? So far, Obama hasn’t been disinclined to ignore the Constitution.