That is, if House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi gets her way.
On CBS’ Face the Nation on Jan. 6, Pelosi said that if the debt ceiling is reached without a congressional extension, Obama should just raise it himself. “[I]f I were president, I would use the 14th Amendment, which says that the United States will always be paying … I would just go do it, right.”
Here, Pelosi is saying that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution gives Obama the power to do whatever he pleases in order to ensure, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law … shall not be questioned.”
Never mind that this section of the Amendment was originally set up to ensure that debts incurred during the Civil War would be honored, and also to bar the federal government or any state from assuming the debts of the Confederacy. Pelosi wants the Administration to assert that it is a universal mandate.
From this she is claiming that the President has the power to ignore Congress and issue as much new debt as he deems appropriate. Neat argument.
There are several problems with this proposition, of course. The Constitution empowers Congress, not the President, in Article 1, Section 8 to “borrow money on the credit of the United States.”
Further, Article 1, Section 7 gives the House of Representatives the sole power to originate legislation affecting “the raising of revenue.” And there is no question that adding new debt is new revenue.
Fortunately, so far the Administration has resisted these siren calls to just raise the debt ceiling willy-nilly. “This administration does not believe that the 14th Amendment gives the president the power to ignore the debt ceiling — period,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on Dec. 6.
Although that is little comfort. Instead, the White House just wants Congress to eliminate the debt ceiling all together. Which, if Pelosi is ever again Speaker of the House, one should expect that might be her first order of business.
All of which means Republicans in the House are actually in a race against time in order to get the nation’s reckless entitlement spending under control.
60 percent — some $2.2 trillion — of the $3.65 trillion budget is spent automatically without any vote in Congress. This so-called “mandatory” spending — the constitutionally questionable process of baseline budgeting — is the true driver of our debt crisis.
The only time Congress gets to vote on that part of the budget, really, is whenever the debt ceiling comes up. Otherwise, there are no annual appropriations votes on the Social Security budget, or the Medicare budget, etc. The only way to get at them is to amend the eligibility requirements under law — and that requires 60 votes in the Senate.
Except, Republicans have never had a filibuster-proof majority since Rule 22 was adopted in 1917 and modified in 1975 lowering the requirement to a three-fifths majority from two-thirds to invoke cloture. And at the rate they’re going, likely never will.
So, unless Republicans are willing to use the debt ceiling to rein in entitlement spending and balance the budget, and to use it now, the country may never address these issues in any meaningful way. We may be just an election way from the debt ceiling being eliminated all together.
At which point, we may as well just abolish Congress itself. Then, it will have become little more than a useless puppet theater, a means to control the masses through the illusion of representation. Why even have elections at all if representatives are not even allowed to vote on the only budgetary matters of significance?
The truth is, when the $16.394 trillion debt ceiling comes due, the stakes could not possibly be any higher.
Bill Wilson is the President of Americans for Limited Government. You can follow Bill on Twitter at @BillWilsonALG.