The Debt Ceiling Is Unconstitutional, and Biden Should Just Say So
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.
- US Constitution, 14th Amendment, Section 4
The debt ceiling is unconstitutional. We’ve let the Republicans play their games for long enough, in the interest of “stability of the economy” and a general fear of rocking the boat, but that time is over now. President Biden should simply announce that his administration will not follow this brazenly unconstituional law, because unconstitutional is literally what it is, and every Congressperson who wants to use it as leverage is in flagrant violation of their oath of office.
Often, when people say something is unconstitutional, they mean they don’t like it, or that a Supreme Court decision they agree with has ruled it that way, or one that is established deeply in precedent. In this situation, however, it’s literally in the text of the US Constitution, a document that we in the US are raised to treat as a sacred.
Let me explain.
Congress has given the President and his administration three sets of instructions, three policies, three laws:
- The budget: To spend X amount.
- The tax code: To tax Y amount.
- The debt ceiling: To not go over Z amount of debt.
None of these are optional. President Biden may not unilaterally cut spending. He certainly may not unilaterally raise taxes. And so, in our current situation, where we have reached the ceiling, the only way to follow these instructions from Congress, to spend the money he is obligated to spend with the tax money he is allowed to collect, is to default on payments on debt.
This is how the debt ceiling is generally interpreted, as a legal requirement to default, coming from Congress. That is the only interpretation that makes sense from the perspective of the House Republicans who are trying to use this as leverage in a negotiation.
But Congress isn’t allowed to require that. It’s literally unconstitutional.
I’m not the only person who thinks so. Here’s a sampling of other articles making the same point, which comes from sources I just happen to have been reading. The first most matches my perspective:
- The Deadbeat Limit
- You Can Let Republicans Destroy the Economy, or You Can Call Their Bluff
- The Constitution Has a 155-Year-Old Answer to the Debt Ceiling
Of course, the Constitution is only as good as people actually paying attention to it. Republicans have recently demonstrated repeatedly that their respect for it is only lip service, that they actually despise the document.
So if you don’t care about the Constitution, care about the economy – the US economy and the world economy. Care about the stability of the US dollar. A default would destroy faith in this country, just as the authors of the 14th amendment feared. It would result in lawsuits that would likely invalidate the debt ceiling anyway in the courts – after the massive economic damage has already been done. The damage would be unimaginable: We literally have never done something so stupid before, and have no idea what would happen to the US’s position in the world, or to the US dollar.
If you’re genuinely worried about the Federal government overspending, this is not an appropriate forum to express your worries. There already is a process for that, and it’s called the budget.
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