Bench Memos

Re: Debt-Limit Silliness

I thank Ed for pointing to Michael McConnell’s comments on the bizarre argument that the Fourteenth Amendment somehow authorizes the president to blow through the debt ceiling imposed by Congress.  I had seen John Baker’s article already.  Both Baker and McConnell have this exactly right.

Think for a moment about what it would mean for the president to do what some liberals suggest.  The “debt ceiling” is nothing more than the currently legislated maximum authority granted the Treasury to borrow on the credit of the nation by issuing bonds.  Not only does the Fourteenth Amendment itself refer to the “public debt of the United States, authorized by law,” but Article I, section 8 supplies a legislative power to “borrow money on the credit of the United States.”  To ignore the debt limit, or exceed the debt ceiling, or however we want to phrase it, the president would have to presume, on his own authority, absent any congressional authorization, to issue more debt instruments than current law permits.  Such “Obama bonds” would have no legal underpinning, as legislatively unauthorized and therefore unconstitutional issues of debt instruments.  Why would anyone buy them?  They’d be worthless.  Unless the president wants to guarantee them personally–”His bond is his word.”  But when has that been worth anything?  Somehow I don’t think Wall Street, or even the Chinese, would care to take a flyer.

Matthew J. Franck — Matthew J. Franck is the Director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.

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