So Congress has now passed its Debt Deal. If you watched any of the voting on C-Span or anywhere else, you likely saw many of your elected officials congratulating themselves on such a good job. They celebrated the vote, happy that they averted a “default”, and avoided the largest economic disaster since the Great Depression.
What? Increasing the amount of debt the country could owe somehow SAVES the country from economic ruin? Our elected officials must live on a different planet than you and me.
In all of the debates regarding the debt ceiling, did you hear ANY of the representatives or senators ask if doing so was constitutional? Hardly. If any of them did so, it was only in passing. Instead, the bulk of the debate centered around the completely fictitious notion that the U.S. might default on its debt. This was never going to happen! But that’s all the media reported on, and that’s all the elected officials talked about.
So is it constitutional? According to Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution:
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;
At first glance, it would certainly appear that Congress is well within its rights to increase the debt limit, as it has the power to “borrow money on the credit of the United States”. But notice something else in the first clause: Congress also has the power “to pay the Debts”. Why is it that we never hear about that?
Can it seriously be argued that the founding fathers intended to give Congress the power to continually raise the debt limit without any regard for the ability to actually pay back those debts? Of course not. If the founding fathers were truly giving Congress such a power, they would necessarily have been allowing Congress to bankrupt the country. That was never what they intended.
What Congress is doing, and has done for way too long, is focus only on its “power” to borrow money, without considering the equal responsibility to actually pay it back. Consequently, our country continues to fall deeper into debt.
What about the commerce clause? Is it constitutional under that? I would say the same principle applies. At some point, you lose the ability to regulate commerce when you’re nothing more than a debtor to more creditors than you can count. Ask yourself this question: when your monthly debts are more than your income, who’s in control of your life? You, or your creditors? The answer is simple.
What about the general welfare clause? Surely it passes muster under that, right? Again, the same questions yield the same results. Who is benefiting when we as a country sink deeper into debt? Not the American citizen, that’s for sure.
Finally, some have argued that the 14th Amendment gives the President the ability to raise the debt limit without the consent of Congress. According to Section 4 of the 14th 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.” So, the argument is made, President Obama could simply ignore Congress and increase the debt limit himself, or, as some have suggested, declare the idea of any debt limit unconstitutional in and of itself.
Of course, this entire thinking is backward. Congress (and the President) was concerned about our ability to BORROW above the current debt limit. Why wasn’t anyone asking about our ability to REPAY what had already been borrowed? Isn’t that our real problem?
For an excellent discussion of this issue, click here: http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/08/3614