The day of reckoning when the United States runs out of money to pay its bills is approaching fast, as early as the beginning of June. Yet the Biden administration continues to play politics, blaming the Republicans for bringing the country to the brink of default. Do your constitutional duty, administration officials admonish the Republicans, and raise or suspend the debt ceiling without any conditions.
After months of refusing to negotiate, President Biden finally hosted a meeting at the White House on May 9th with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Leader Hakim Jeffries, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Following the meeting, President Biden spoke to the press with no progress to report. He reiterated his refusal to negotiate a deal that would couple a debt ceiling increase or suspension with agreed upon spending cuts at the same time. “I told congressional leaders that I’m prepared to begin a separate discussion about my budget and spending priorities, but not under the threat of default,” the president said. “We need to take the threat of default off the table.”
In separate remarks to reporters summing up his impression of the meeting, Speaker McCarthy said that he “didn’t see any new movement.”
The Democrat-controlled Senate meanwhile has done nothing to advance its own debt ceiling bill.
President Biden and the congressional leaders agreed to meet again on May 12th. Their staffs will meet as well. Expect continued intransigence from President Biden and his Democrat allies in Congress.
Indeed, the White House continues to demagogue the debt ceiling issue. As evidence of the Biden White House’s bad faith, it has grossly distorted the contents of the House bill, which its disinformation agents pejoratively call The Default on America Act.
The House bill, entitled the Limit, Save, Grow, Act of 2023, is the only bill approved by a chamber of Congress that would avoid default. It allows an increase in the debt ceiling of as much as $1.5 trillion to avoid imminent default along with cuts in spending and green energy tax breaks. These cuts are intended to limit the future growth of the national debt. Speaker McCarthy has been consistent in opening the door to good faith negotiations so long as the debt ceiling and budget cuts are considered together.
But President Biden is not interested in negotiating. Instead, the White House is trying to scare the American people with lies about what programs the House bill would cut as the condition for agreeing to raise or suspend the debt ceiling. The White House is lying, for example, when it claims that the House debt ceiling bill contains cuts to veterans’ benefits. It does not. The White House also raises the specter that the House bill would strip nutrition assistance from women and children and would jeopardize food assistance for older adults. That charge too is misleading.
The White House did tell the truth that the House debt ceiling bill reverses President Biden’s executive order providing debt relief to higher education students, saving $400 billion. Republicans do not believe that it is fair to shift the cost of such debt that benefits a privileged group of Americans to all American taxpayers.
The White House cites studies estimating that a brief default could lead to a loss of nearly 2 million jobs and that a protracted default could lead to a loss of almost 8 million jobs. But the impasse that could lead to a default is the fault of President Biden and of his congressional Democrat allies. It is up to President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to move the ball forward to prevent default and the resulting loss of jobs that the White House claims it is so worried about.
Instead, the Biden administration is considering an end run around the debt ceiling that would call for declaring Congress’s debt ceiling to be legally invalid, ignoring the ceiling altogether, and continuing to borrow whether Congress acts or not. Several progressive law professors including Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe, whom President Biden said has advised him “for a long time,” have recommended this course of action. If President Biden follows this recommendation, he would trigger a constitutional crisis by trashing the separation of powers. Even he admitted that the issue would have to be “litigated.”
By unilaterally declaring the congressionally mandated debt limit itself to be legally invalid, the executive branch would be usurping the judicial power of the nation’s courts to interpret the law, including the Constitution. By continuing to borrow above the debt ceiling without congressional approval, the executive branch would be usurping the explicit legislative power of Congress to “borrow money on the credit of the United States.”
Congress has used this legislative authority to cap the size of the federal debt and to raise the cap numerous times for more than a century. Congress has not delegated to the president his own authority to raise or suspend the congressionally mandated debt ceiling under any circumstances.
Not to be thwarted by the bedrock constitutional principle of separation of powers, however, Professor Tribe wrote a recent New York Times op-ed article outlining his ideas to get around this obstacle. He argued that the president’s duty to faithfully execute the laws includes the power to disregard one law – in this case, the debt ceiling – to supposedly save “all the spending laws Congress has enacted.” (Emphasis in the original)
In other words, the law professor upon whom President Biden relies for advice believes that the president is entitled to choose the laws that he decides are valid and to violate or ignore those he decides are invalid. The progressive Left’s dream of dismantling America’s constitutional republic on the way to one-man rule would be that much closer to fulfillment.
President Biden told the press that he was considering the option of invoking the 14th Amendment to the Constitution as a basis for acting unilaterally, which would rely on the 14th Amendment’s Public Debt Clause. The pertinent sentence in Section 4 states: “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.”
Invoking this clause of the 14th Amendment to justify continued unilateral borrowing by the Biden administration past the current debt ceiling is complete “malarkey,” to use one of President Biden’s favorite words.
Section 4 of the 14th Amendment was drafted in the context of validating or voiding debts incurred during the Civil War. The focus was on validating debts incurred in putting down the rebellion, while declaring that debts incurred in supporting the rebellion and claims for the loss or emancipation of any slave were null and void.
The author of an article examining the original meaning of the phrase “[t]he validity of the public debt . . . shall not be questioned” in the Public Debt Clause wrote that it should be interpreted narrowly. It “was understood at the time of ratification to be technical language prohibiting direct governmental debt repudiation only,” the author concluded from his exhaustive historical research.
The bill passed by the House of Representatives that raised the debt ceiling in conjunction with required cuts in spending and tax breaks does not repudiate or question any portion of the existing government debt. By no stretch of the imagination does the 14th Amendment give the president the power to ignore the existing debt ceiling and order his Treasury Department to continue borrowing without congressional authorization.
A recent poll asked Americans whether they prefer the Republican House’s approach of linking a debt ceiling increase with spending cuts or the Biden administration’s “clean” approach that would raise the debt ceiling without any required spending cuts. The result was that “50% select the House’s bill requiring spending cuts, while 25% would prefer a debt ceiling bill without requirements for spending cuts included.”
In the past, Mr. Biden has negotiated debt ceiling increases in combination with spending cuts in his capacity both as a senator and vice president. By refusing to do so now, the White House is manufacturing a crisis and engaging in demagoguery to try and score political points at the expense of the American people. But many Americans are catching on as President Biden’s approval ratings plummet.