How Obama can stop the “apocalypse”


    Once again, the right-wing kamikazes are threatening to crash their planes into the good ship America and drive us into default. The deal, as they see it, is that unless President Obama agrees to sink Obamacare (otherwise known as the law of the land), they’ll refuse to raise the debt ceiling and thus crash the full faith and credit of the United States.

    This strategy was actually endorsed yesterday by House Speaker John Boehner, who, in an effort to keep his job, has decided to let the lunatics run the asylum. Naturally, President Obama quickly signaled that the strategy – driven by roughly 40 conservatives from safe red districts – is nuts: “You have never seen, in the history of the United States, the debt ceiling – or the threat of not raising the debt ceiling – being used to extort a president or a governing party.” (True that. Republicans routinely voted to raise the debt ceiling seven times for George W. Bush and 18 times for Ronald Reagan.) Obama rightly groused that the GOP’s idea of negotiation is to keep threatening “apocalypse.”

    But, in the interests of protecting our credit rating, and ensuring that Uncle Sam keeps paying his bills, Obama can thwart apocalypse any time he wants to. The weapon is the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution. I’ve italicized the relevant passages of Section 4:

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    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.”

    This section was adopted shortly after the Civil War. The feds feared that ex-Confederate sympathizers, newly elected to Congress from southern states, might try for their own partisan reasons to meddle with the Union’s borrowing authority – and hence, its ability to pay its bills. That’s why the 14th amendment says that the public debt “shall not be questioned.”

    Lots of legal scholars, and a former president, cited the amendment two years ago, when the GOP was making a similar kamikaze effort (an unsuccessful effort that nonetheless did major damage, prompting the  Dow to drop 2000 points and goading Standard and Poor’s to downgrade the U.S. credit rating). Back then, Bill Clinton urged Obama to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally because “the Constitution is clear.” If it were up to him, he’d raise it “without hesitation, and force the courts to stop me.”

    And Jack Balkin, a constitutional law expert at Yale, insisted that the courts wouldn’t stop Obama. Writing on his blog, Balkin said: “(Section 4) was stated in broad terms in order to prevent future majorities in Congress from repudiating the federal debt to gain political advantage, to seek political revenge, or to try to disavow previous financial obligations…It’s an argument for emergency powers. If all else fails, and we are in an emergency situation, the president may act to stabilize the situation.”

    But when Obama was asked about this constitutional provision back in July ’11, he shrugged it off: “I have talked to my lawyers. They are not persuaded that that is a winning argument.”

    To which I say: Stuff the lawyers. Put an end to this right-wing nonsense, once and for all. Just lead already.


    Speaking of Boehner’s capitulation to his kamikaze caucus…Take a guess who uttered these remarks:

    “We’re going to deal with (the debt ceiling) as adults. Whether we like it or not, the federal government has obligations, and we have obligations.” – November 2010

    “(Default) would be a financial disaster, not only for our country, but for the worldwide economy.” – January 2011

    “Do you want to risk the full faith and credit of the United States government over Obamacare? That’s a very tough argument to make.” – March 2013

    You know the answer already. It’s Boehner.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal