Every time the United States gets ready to bump up against another debt ceiling limit, the old 14th Amendment canard seems to make an appearance.
I’ve previously devastated that argument. So too have others. But let me sum up why usurping powers supposedly granted by Section 4 of the 14th Amendment is not just unconstitutional, but counter-productive:
1. Section 8 of Article I exclusively grants to Congress the power “to borrow money on the credit of the United States.”
2. The obligation to repay all debt supposedly set by Section 4 of the 14th Amendment only exists if you leave out three significant words in that very amendment: ”The validity of the public debt of the United State, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.” The debt ceiling is the authorization that allows the Treasury to issue more debt. Without it, there is no “authorized by law.”
3. Even if that isn’t clear enough, Section 5 of the 14th Amendment re-emphasizes that point: ”The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this Article.”
4. The whole reason purportedly given for arguing that the President should use this non-existent power is so that the world’s bond markets won’t be spooked and call into question whether or not debt issued by the Treasury is valid. However, the Constitutional uncertainty of debt issued under such circumstances induces the very market spookiness that those making the argument supposedly wish to avoid.
5. In a contest between violating a law and violating the Constitution, the Constitution wins. The Constitution demands that only Congress can authorize debt. The Constitution also demands that the President must repay debt. It is a mere law (and a relatively recent one) that requires the President to spend every dime that Congress authorizes. The Constitution, therefore simply demands that the President simply prioritize debt repayment over other spending. Sure, that means that he has to violate the 1974 Anti-impoundment act, but it would now be unconstitutional to follow that law without an increase in the debt ceiling. (Plus, it was a stupid law in the first place.)
MORE: From John Hinderaker: “The Federal Government Can’t and Won’t Default on its Debt Obligations.” My five points above tell you why the federal government can’t. To understand why the President won’t default, read this long piece to understand how operationally dependent the Democratic Party is upon debt.