In the debt ceiling battle, Biden wants to erase a chunk of the Constitution

The debate over the debt ceiling has reached an impasse. Rather than agreeing to stop hemorrhaging taxpayer money, Biden now argues that the 14th Amendment allows him to arrogate to the Executive powers clearly and explicitly limited to Congress. If Biden and the Dems can get away with this, they will have erased a chunk of the Constitution by gelding the House.

It's always good to begin a discussion by defining terms. The important term, in this case, is “debt ceiling.” We throw the term around, but I suspect that few know exactly what it means. I certainly didn’t until I took the time to look it up. Investopedia has the cleanest definition I’ve found:

The debt ceiling is the maximum amount of money that the United States can borrow cumulatively by issuing bonds. The debt ceiling was created under the Second Liberty Bond Act of 1917 and is also known as the debt limit or statutory debt limit.

If U.S. government national debt levels bump up against the ceiling, then the Treasury Department must resort to other extraordinary measures to pay government obligations and expenditures until the ceiling is raised again.

The debt ceiling has been raised or suspended numerous times over the years to avoid the worst-case scenario: a default by the U.S. government on its debt.

This means that, when the government runs out of taxpayer money, it doesn’t go to Big Bank, fill out a loan application, and get a trillion dollars. Instead, it issues bonds, or promissory notes, by which it promises to pay the holder a specific interest rate and, ultimately, to return the principal. The U.S. funded both WWI and WWII by issuing bonds to patriotic citizens.

Historically, bonds have been considered a good investment because they are backed by the U.S. government. However, their value vanishes if the government can no longer pay interest on them. That’s why we have a debt ceiling: It places a limit on the government so that it can’t borrow unlimited amounts to pay a never-ending stream of debts. If the debt ceiling is low, the Government must control its spending.

That gets us to the current battle between Biden (well, really, his handlers, but “Biden” is a shorthand) and the Republicans in the House. The House is the branch of government most tightly tied to taxpayers. House members are elected by district and, every two years, they must convince their district that they appropriately represented their district’s interests.

Image generated by Pixlr AI.

No wonder, then, that the House’s biggest responsibility under the Constitution is controlling the government purse: “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.” (Const. Art I, Sec. 7.)

After the Civil War ended, Congress ratified the 14th Amendment. Section 4 was included to ensure that the government would pay the debts the Union Army incurred while disavowing the debts that the Confederacy incurred:

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.

Leftists, however, who believe in “substantive due process” (i.e., the Constitution means whatever we want it to mean) or Gorsuch’s textualism (i.e., the Constitution and the law mean whatever I want them to mean), argue that the first sentence means that, if Congress won’t allow the executive to issue more bonds, then the President must act unilaterally to issue bonds.

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, immediately spotted the constitutional nullification inherent in this argument:

Biden is not the first president to disregard legislative authority. But these members of the legislative branch [supporting the Democrat view of the 14th Amendment] are beseeching their leader to ignore them and their constitutional authority. Indeed, the most important power given to Congress under Article I is the “power of the purse.” It was the ultimate control over government. Whatever entanglements or commitments a president may seek, he must ultimately get the Congress to go along.

George Mason captured that intent when he declared that “no branch of government should ever be able to combine the power of the sword with the power of the purse.”

And if you’re wondering about a possible default, don’t worry. Turley quotes another law professor to set that lie to rest:

Moreover, as University of Virginia law professor Saikrishna Prakash recently pointed out, there is more than enough federal revenue coming in each month for Biden to avoid default by paying the interest on the debt under existing federal law. That may cause temporary problems for other spending priorities — acute problems, even — but it hardly rises to the level of a constitutional crisis.

Government spending is a real crisis because it’s out of control. The debt ceiling battle, however, is essentially a fake crisis that the Democrats are ginning up to nullify the Constitution and erase the House’s most consequential and unique power.

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