"The right to make binding obligations is a power of sovereignty. The sovereignty of the United States resides in the people, and Congress cannot invoke the sovereignty of the people to override their will as declared in the Constitution. The power given Congress to borrow money on the credit of the United States is unqualified and vital to the Government, and the binding quality of the promise of the United States is of the essence of the credit pledged. " [emphasis added]
"We in the White House see ourselves as really, really weak and ineffective."
The White House continues to spin the Debt Ceiling story around the president's perceived powerlessness, which is certainly an effective self-fulfilling prophecy. The president who says he has no authority to act seems pretty likely not to act. But it's also possible the rationale is bogus and the president simply doesn't want to act. The White House says it has an in-house legal opinion supporting the president's impotence, but presidents tend to get the legal opinions they want -- President Bush wanted torture to be legal, and presto White House counsel said torture to your little heart's content.
The president's oath of office, as provided in the Constitution, is elegantly simple and direct: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
But the White House appears more concerned about bond markets than the obligations of the president's oath or the nation's general welfare and all the other priorities enumerated in the Constitution's preamble.
So we have the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Jason Furman, citing the White House legal opinion as justification for inaction, and then arguing that even if the president could act, paying the bills incurred by Congress would still be a bad idea because: "You could not have an economically successful [bond] auction in an environment like that." He apparently did not go on to explain why a default on the national debt was a better idea.
And we have National Economic Council director Gene Sperling speaking from the same script: "The 14th Amendment does not give the President of the United State the ability to unilaterally borrow. And by the way, even if you did something that questionable, you would need all of the global financial markets to not be shaken by the specter of the United States government seeking to borrow money with a cloud of legal fuzziness over it." He did add that he believed that such borrowing "would have a lot of the same harm that "a technical default would have." He did not rule out a 14th amendment, but came close, ducking behind the White House legal opinion and saying "the cure does not exist."
White House: the Constitution matters, except when it doesn't
One of the things the White House consistent avoids mentioning is that the Debt Ceiling is not in the Constitution. It's not even implied by the Constitution. It is only an untested law passed by Congress, with little or no real impact until 2011. But rather than challenge a manifest absurdity, the White House cites the Constitution's grant of authority to Congress to borrow money and pay debts, as if those obligations can be trumped by the Debt Ceiling law which has no constitutional basis.
White House press secretary Jay Carney tosses out a red herring when he tells reporters that the White House legal opinion says the 14th amendment doesn't give the president the authority to raise the Debt Ceiling. He may be right in a narrow sense, but his point is totally irrelevant.
The president doesn't have to raise the Debt Ceiling this crisis. He doesn't have to address the Debt Ceiling in any direct way. All he has to do is ignore the Debt Ceiling and pay the government's bills.
Does anyone think the markets have much confidence in the United States now? Isn't it possible that the markets, watching a president acting with uncharacteristic clarity and vigor for the sake of the common good, might even feel a bit more confidence in a country where the lunatics were allowed to run the asylum for only a limited time?
Would Republicans move to impeach the president for acting to preserve the good faith and credit of the United States? Quite probably. But so what? Why isn't that a fight the president should embrace? Why shouldn't President Obama go fully on offense for sanity against the crazies? Why shouldn't he exercise the inherent emergency powers of the presidency to defend the nation and the Constitution? Why shouldn't he act presidentially and lead for a change? Wouldn't most people find that refreshing after all the feigned limpness?
And how much harder for the president would it be to act responsibly against the Debt Ceiling, really, than the way he already acts with even less authority to kill strangers with drones, also an impeachable offense by any reasonable measure, and one for which he will never be held accountable?
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