The Debt Ceiling v. the Fourteenth Amendment

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

For months, the words "debt ceiling" have been hanging over Americans' heads, along with apocalyptic predictions of what might happen if President Obama and Congress don’t raise the ceiling or rearrange the budget before August.

But back in April, Garrett Epps proposed something completely novel, that’s just now starting to get a lot of attention: what if the president simply asserted that under the Fourteenth Amendment the debt ceiling is unconstitutional?

Epps is a law professor at the University of Baltimore and a columnist for The Atlantic. His 2006 book, "Democracy Reborn: The Fourteenth Amendment and the Fight for Equal Rights in Post-Civil War America," is considered the most comprehensive history of the framing of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Comments [5]


Could it be that Section 4 of the 14th Amendment is being sliced and dissected to somehow permit unlimited spending against the expressed will of the people yet if the clear wording of the 10th Amendment was honored, it could have avoided this entire debt crisis?
Could it be that 19th Century Democrats in the South abused the 10th Amendment for political reasons and now their modern political progeny are attempting the same thing with Section 4 of the 14th Amendment? What will be the next "novel" approach to the US Constitution? Perhaps a balanced budget amendment?

Jul. 05 2011 03:33 PM
Douglas Cuthbertson from Chelmsford, MA

At least the administration has a constitutional escape hatch. Hopefully, members of Congress will start acting like responsible adults and realize the US must pay its debts. Would it be too much to ask if they could figure out how to get the deficit under control without ruining the livelihood of the middle class?

Jul. 05 2011 01:34 PM

"..prevent one partisan faction from wrecking the public credit of the United States for its own advantage.."

Wasn't the 19th Century partisan faction in question the southern Democrats? Are modern Democrats engaged in the largest ruinous spending spree in US history which is a great benefit to their party as the power of government rapidly expands?
Will an amendment meant to stop a faction of 19th Century Democrats from "wrecking the public credit" be used by 21st Century Democrats today to unleash unlimited spending which will result in "wrecking the public credit" even more? Is this what is meant by "adult supervision"?

What did Senator Obama say in 2006?

"The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can’t pay its own bills. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here. Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better." Obama - 2006

Jul. 05 2011 10:26 AM
Mordecai Christi from Boston

[an edit]

The next amendment to the Constitution will require that politicians are not allowed to be in Congress, - the end of that thought prior to my claim that this is possible, is that those listed will/ought be our foci and subject pool from drawing from those who may 'lead' us.

When a 'chosen' leader, a law-maker is one who has more self-interest than interest in the nation, they immediately cease to be fit to be a leader. This is true of you, me, or anyone.

Jul. 05 2011 09:55 AM
Mordecai Christi from Boston

This was a pleasing piece. This Garrett Epps was an intelligent and friendly and helpful voice... elucidating in a way, unto a simple issue. [...] 'Debt-ceiling'? We do not 'need' a word for incompetence and trivial quibbling and power-insecurity in the realm of a nation's debt through the smarmy and terrified scratchings and clawings of temper-tantrum-throwing high-schoolers in a bulimic race for a cancerous popularity. Get things right, or get out of our way. Our country, our world, and our humanity is our focus. The politician must remember this.

and a musing.

The next amendment to the Constitution will require that politicians are not allowed to be in Congress, that, like Ms. Stein in Massachusetts, only doctors, legitimate peer-reviewed scientists, respectable lawyers, humanitarian artists, musicians and writers, philosophers, psychologists, established 'non-partisan' (and not on the pay-roll of any corporation) economists, and insert professional focus of human-type that you would desire to help you solve a larger non-specific problem (say... fixing a pipe in your sink, though if they can do that too with regards to their more specific generalized skill-set, a bonus), as well as those who advocate for human rights, and never for monetary rights, as 'legitimate' as this sounds, as 'ideal' as this sounds, it is more legitimate and achievable that we can burden ourselves with stacks of doubt... think of it. Politicians sunk, real good humans risen. Politics isn't a specialized job. Politics is a job invented by the politicians to keep the politician in a job.

Jul. 05 2011 09:49 AM

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