14th Amendment and Debt Ceiling: Amendment’s Applicability to the Current Debt Situation Unclear; Congress Has the Power to Enforce the Provisions of the 14th Amendment

The once routine lifting of the debt ceiling has become a quite a battle of wills. Considering that the United States will continue to issue debt (for federal pensions and Social Security and other purposes), I am unsure whether this is a good place to make a high-stakes stand.

Now, to break the impasse, some commentators are suggesting that the 14th Amendment , section 4 can be used by the President to exceed the debt ceiling.As frustrating and upsetting as the debate has been, the political branches (especially Congress) will finally have to set down and do the work they were elected to do, keeping in mind the real power of a Presidential veto.

Section 4.
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. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

It’s compelling, but I don’t think it applies to the current debt debacle. It has more applicability to the Civil War era when it was written. In addition, the Congress has the right to enforce the provsions of the 14th Amendment, section 5.

Section 5.
The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Also, Congress has the power of the purse, Article I, section 8, and allowing the President to set the debt limit on his own may create a separation-of-powers issue.

Advertisements