Debt Ceiling Hostage Freed By 14th Amendment?

As Republicans continue to posture over the debt ceiling, the idea of going over Congress' head and invoking the 14th amendment as basis to raise it automatically is gaining traction. Here's the latest shenanigans from Republicans. After the

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As Republicans continue to posture over the debt ceiling, the idea of going over Congress' head and invoking the 14th amendment as basis to raise it automatically is gaining traction.

Here's the latest shenanigans from Republicans. After the President took them to task for taking off on vacation, Mitch McConnell issued an invitation for President Obama to meet with Republicans, but not to negotiate. No, McConnell wanted Mr. Obama to come into the room so he could "hear directly" why he will never get what he's asking for.

“I’d like to invite the president to come to the Capitol today to meet with Senate Republicans — any time this afternoon, if he’s available, to come on up to the Capitol,” McConnell said. “That way he can hear directly from Senate Republicans … why what he’s proposing will not pass.”

You may have heard about the "14th amendment option", a sort of nuclear option for the executive to completely bypass Congress and rely on the language in the 14th amendment to render any legislative action on the debt ceiling moot. If you haven't, watch the segment in the video at the top of this post where it's explained pretty thoroughly.

It's an untested concept, but rooted in some really strong history. I cannot recommend this post enough for the backstory and history around the adoption of Section Four of the Fourteenth Amendment:

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.

When I first heard about this I was completely confused as to how language about the public debt became part of a constitutional amendment, which is why you really must read the post on Balkanization. Here's a snippet:

What do we learn from this history? If Wade's speech offers the central rationale for Section Four, the goal was to remove threats of default on federal debts from partisan struggle. Reconstruction Republicans feared that Democrats, once admitted to Congress would use their majorities to default on obligations they did disliked politically. More generally, as Wade explained, "every man who has property in the public funds will feel safer when he sees that the national debt is withdrawn from the power of a Congress to repudiate it and placed under the guardianship of the Constitution than he would feel if it were left at loose ends and subject to the varying majorities which may arise in Congress."

Well, now. That seems to lend itself to a place in this Very Serious Discussion of the Very Serious Republicans to blow up the world economy for Very Partisan Reasons.

Bruce Bartlett:**

This means that the very existence of the debt limit is unconstitutional because it calls into question the validity of the debt. So would any other provision of law. That is a key reason why Congress created a permanent appropriation for interest payments at the same time that the Fourteenth Amendment was debated. Previously, Congress had to pass annual appropriations for interest.

[...]

It goes without saying that provoking a constitutional crisis over the debt limit is a bad idea, but a debt crisis would be worse. At a minimum, the Fourteenth Amendment greatly strengthens the president’s hand in getting the debt limit increased in a timely matter. He should not be afraid to use it.

Chait is gnawing around the edges of the benefits of this strategy. Let's just say it outright. The administration has set a drop-dead date of July 22nd to get this done. Assuming Republicans keep their petulant sad faces and refuse to negotiate in any faith, much less good faith, all the White House has to do is remind them that they're irrelevant by reminding the global bond markets that they're irrelevant. Suddenly the hostage is breathing just a little bit easier and Republicans look like the fools that they are.

We know this will spin away from the President in the media. He will be painted by sniveling Republicans as a bully and a despot. But for everyone who doesn't want the administration to cave on Medicare and Social Security, I note that the bully pulpit was used quite successfully yesterday (despite the cries and whimpers about scoldings and the like) and the administration's surrogates are speaking out forcefully about the usefulness of the 14th amendment solution, so it would seem to be in our benefit to have their backs on this one.

It's certainly gotten more interesting with this on the table. I'm suddenly having fun watching Mitch McConnell and John Boehner tilt at windmills.

**Corrected to attribute properly to author Bruce Bartlett, not Jon Chait. We regret the error.

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