The National Debt and the Constitution

As we wrestle with the national debt and as Congress debates over whether to raise the debt limit or risk default, we should consider what the Constitution says about the issue.  First, Congress does have the right to borrow money:

‘The Congress shall have power … To borrow money on the credit of the United States.’  Article I, Section 8

But read on to the 14th Amendment and you find this:

‘The validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned.’  14th Amendment, Section 4

The 14th Amendment deals with the wreckage of the Civil War, giving citizenship to former slaves by virtue of their having been born here (another controversial issue in the immigration debate, though clearly addressed in the Constitution) among other things.  Article 4 repudiated the debt of the Confederacy, but in doing so it affirmed that the United States will always honor its debts.

This was a brilliant addition, serving as the basis for the idea that U.S. bonds are backed by the “full faith and credit” of the United States of America, meaning they are a rock solid investment.  It isn’t just our full faith and credit that backs them but the Constitution itself.  It would be unconstitutional to default on our loans.

But, as some experts are saying now in the midst of the debt ceiling negotiations in Congress, the 14th Amendment would render all of that moot.  There is no need to raise the debt ceiling because the Constitution provides that all debt that we incur must be paid.  The money that our lawmakers are squabbling over has already been spent and has been authorized by statute.  According to the 14th Amendment, that debt has to be honored.

Debt can certainly be too high and need to be controlled.  But the 14th Amendment means that whatever we borrow must be paid back.   According to some attorneys, if the current negotiations to raise the debt ceiling break down, to prevent the country from going into default, the President simply needs to sign an executive order invoking the 14th Amendment and keep borrowing money to pay our obligations, despite what Congress does.

Do you see any flaws in this legal reasoning?

 

see U.S. Constitution Under Siege over Libya, Taxes, Health Care – TIME.

HT:  Jimmy Veith

Color photos of the Depression

Go here for a treasure trove of rare color photos of Depression-era America: Rare Library of Congress colour photographs of the Great Depression | Mail Online.

They are of astonishing vividness.  These here folks are my people:

America’s exceptional arrogance in the bin Laden killing?

While we Americans tend to embrace our “exceptionalism,”  people from other countries often see that as a bad thing.  Britain’s prominent Christian author N. T. Wright excoriates America for our presumption in the bin Laden assassination:

Popular author and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright has accused the world of giving America a free pass for violating Pakistan’s sovereignty and killing an unarmed man during the recent attack that killed Osama bin Laden.

The former bishop of Durham sent a short statement to The Times’ religion correspondent Ruth Gledhill in which he pointed out that Americans would be “furious” if Great Britain’s military had staged an unannounced raid against hypothetical Irish Republican Army terrorists and killed them, unarmed, in a Boston suburb.

The only difference, Wright says, is “American exceptionalism.”

“America is allowed to do it, but the rest of us are not,” said Wright, who is now the research professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. “By what right? Who says?”

President Obama, Wright says, has “enacted one of America’s most powerful myths,” the vigilante hero going outside the law to execute “redemptive violence” against an enemy who has rendered the legitimate authorities impotent. “This is the plot of a thousand movies, comic-book strips, and TV shows: Captain America, the Lone Ranger, and (upgraded to hi-tech) Superman. The masked hero saves the world.”

While this myth may have been a necessary dimension of life in the Wild West, Wright says, it also “legitimizes a form of vigilantism, of taking the law into one’s own hands, which provides ‘justice’ only of the crudest sort.”

“What will we do when new superpowers arise and try the same trick on us?” he asks. “And what has any of this to do with something most Americans also believe, that the God of ultimate justice and truth was fully and finally revealed in the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, who taught people to love their enemies, and warned that those who take the sword will perish by the sword?”

via N.T. Wright Slams ‘American Exceptionalism’ in Osama bin Laden Mission | Politics | Christianity Today.

How would you answer him?   Would we, as he says, object if British commandos killed an IRA operative in Boston?  If so, how can we justify what we did in Pakistan?

Preserving the Union

In a review of Robert Redford’s new movie The Conspirator, about the plot to kill Lincoln, Ann Hornaday makes an interesting point, that one of the major patriotic ideals for which many Americans died in the Civil War–namely, the Union–is nearly always denigrated in movies and has faded from the American consciousness:

As University of Virginia history professor Gary Gallagher gracefully proves in his book “Causes Won, Lost and Forgotten,” about how popular culture has shaped ideas about the Civil War, the preservation of the Union has never been deemed worth valorizing by filmmakers, who have historically been more drawn to Lost Cause romanticism or self-flattering stories that emphasize emancipation of enslaved people or the reconciliation of the white South and white North. (At one point in “The Conspirator,” noting the higher causes they both fought for, Surratt tells Aiken, “We’re the same,” a classic reconciliationist elision of the myriad ways the two sides weren’t the same.)

Considering the depiction of white Union soldiers in such late-20th-century movies as “Glory” and “Dances With Wolves,” Gallagher writes, “recent Civil War films fail almost completely to convey any sense of what the Union Cause meant to millions of northern citizens. More than that, they often cast the U.S. military, a military force that saved the republic and destroyed slavery, in a decidedly negative, post-Vietnam light.”

Replace “post-Vietnam” with “post-Iraq” and you get a pretty good description of how the U.S. military is portrayed in “The Conspirator.” Rather than a principle worth fighting for, or a fragile democracy still vulnerable to dead-enders who would reignite the war, the Union is painted as the nest that hatched the egg of an overweening state and arrogant abuse of power. Hollywood may be where Confederates are buried in their onetime capital, but for moviegoers, it’s still the place where the Union Cause goes to die.

via Robert Redford’s ‘The Conspirator’ and the lost Union cause – The Washington Post.

The review cites the anti-government sentiment of both the left and the right for denigrating the Union cause.  But surely our national union is more than just government and can be embraced by those who believe in a limited government. The Constitution was put together to form “a more perfect union.”  Does anyone today really want us to exist in separate states as separate countries?  Can we recover the love of all of these states and all of these different people coming together into the Union?  Where does the ideal of the Union manifest itself in today’s love of country?  Or is there no longer a place for it?

Today the Civil War started 150 years ago

Today, April 12, is the 150th anniversary of the fall of Ft. Sumter, which officially began the Civil War in 1861.

Civil War Trust: Civil War Sesquicentennial Home.

That’s really not long ago, in historical terms.  The lifetime of two old men.  What a tragedy, certainly the lowest point of American history.  With what zeal Americans on both sides slaughtered each other.  Our bloodiest war was with each other.  What a scandal was slavery in this land of the free, and what a sacrifice it took to end it.

Shall we shut down the government? Again?

As of this moment, Republicans and Democrats in Congress are at an impasse over the 2011 budget.   Budget hawks in the Republican party have insisted on cutting President Obama’s spending plan.  Democrats have agreed to some $30 billion in cuts, but that is not enough for a key segment of Republicans.  If a budget doesn’t pass, the government shuts down on Friday.  (Well, “essential services” won’t, but still. . . .)

You may recall another time when Republicans scored a big Congressional victory over an unpopular Democratic president.  They demanded that the budget be cut and stood firm and uncompromising on that principle.  The government shut down.  Whereupon the public reacted against the Republicans, President Clinton’s popularity shot up, and he won re-election.

Is this a repeat of history?  Are the Republicans over-reaching, again? Will this mean the re-election of Barack Obama?  Is there anything different this time?

And here is a deeper question:  Will the American public tolerate a tough, trimmed down budget?  With so many Americans beholden in some way on federal money–getting social security, medicare, farm subsidies, business subsidies, government contracts, job-creating pork, federal programs, college loans, etc., etc.–even though they express worry about the deficit in the abstract, will they turn against any Republican or conservative who threatens to defund popular programs?

 

Government shutdown: Potential furloughs for 800k federal workers, disruption of D.C. services – The Washington Post.


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