The end of the semester is always rough and I’ve had too many long nights, so tonight I am going to offer just one explanation about the debt clause in the Fourteenth Amendment: The debt ceiling crisis continues to dominate the news, with some speculation now that White House officials are wondering whether the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution might require the government to continue to pay its bills whether Congress actually raises the debt ceiling or not.
The truth is that the 14th Amendment is clear that the debt ceiling is unconsitutional. The reality is that a politicized SCOTUS may not confirm that view. And therein lies the rub.
It would be great if you could outline the pros and cons of the argument. In your essay and so it seems to me reading the quote from the constitution, it seems like it is a slam dunk clear thing: not raising the debt limit violates the 14th amendment. Things I read in the NYTimes are more wishy washy. Without defending any opinions that you disagree with, might you help us (me) understand what the debate is about? What is sincere and what disingenuous, in your opinion?
There’s all parts of the 14th Amendment the ‘Pubbies and SCOTUS are hellbent on ignoring.
There’s the Due Process clause.
There’s the bit about those engaged in active rebellion against the US not being allowed to serve in Congress. Or be President or VP or any other elected official of the government of the US
There’s the full faith and credit clause.
There’s the part about apportionment and how everyone born here is a citizen (jus solis)
It seems clear and unambiguous to me; the US Constitution requires that the US gov’t. will pay its bills. Period, stop.
What seems just as clear, threats, just the threat, to prevent the US gov’t. from honoring its obligations undermine our “full faith and credit,” thereby undermine constitutional authority, and thus are treasonous. Period, stop.
None dare call it treason.
If the 14th Amendment requires the government to pay its debts, it seems like a vote should not even be necessary.
I have been thinking a lot lately (don't snicker please) about the pressures put upon our way of life, the stresses that the pandemic has put our traditions, our national image(s) of ourselves, and so on. It seems to me that when a crisis occurs, emboldened forces rise to take over the stage by claiming to have the ability to lead the rest of us out of the mire. This usually involves taking much of the government prisoner, to bend existing ways to a single person's will. A democracy by definition relies on the voices of the people; a republic relies on the minds of the chosen representatives of those people. Many branches of this complicated form of government are poorly understood in their functions, their duties, and their limits. That leads to questions of what the responsibilities are, how are they enforced, and where is the oversight. You can fill in your own sentiments about this. My problem is whether an agency is doing what it is intended to do, or whether corruption has set in. At that point, the voices of the people are drowned out by rules and practices designed to protect the status of members of that agency, because they feel they are best suited for the job requirements. The truth is that agencies can be eliminated, staff can be replaced, and not much upheaval is noticed. Time and time again, an agency we rely on fails its mandate because it was corrupted by some adjustment in definition, (police in Uvalde who by a decision of the Supreme Court in 1989 ruled that they, the police, have no duty to protect and serve,) contrary to when the average citizen thinks. Does that imply that law enforcement can choose which issues to involve themselves in? The pandemic created stress on just about every institution in the entire world, and the fallout will in my mind not be recovered from for decades. A redesign of the ways our systems work to reflect what we learned about functionality (health care for instance) requires steady minds, preferably without an ego-driven mindset, a willingness to listen, to attempt to understand the other points of view, and hopefully for no direct personal gain. The world is always changing, nothing remains the same. If we hire our officeholders by electing them, to ably confront the issues associated with those changes, we had better be aware of qualifications and motive for candidacy. Should we allow the resources of our country, physical, financial, educational, social, and other societal elements, to be denied to a segment of our citizens? Who should decide which city or state residents be allowed potable water, decent health care, welfare for helpless folks, which children can have access to schools? Is there a limit to what the government should provide based on ethnicity or country of origin? Who decides that the federal minimum wage should remain at $7.25/hour, a rate established in 2009? How do we prepare for the future when a sizeable segment of out population wants to revert to past codes of conduct and government? How is it possible that we could default on our debts? Aren't protections in place to avoid that possibility? We think of the Supreme Court as a group of nine, who ultimately decide what the Constitution intended. But when a case is decided by a 5-4 decision, really only a single individual has prevailed. Think about that. We live in a society resting on myth, the City on the Hill myth, the Manifest Destiny myth, the American Exceptionalism myth, and so on; much of our mythical power arises from our geography, that is it inconvenient for us to be attacked. We claim to be a peace-loving nation who we think should be the example for the rest of the world. Why then, has this country not been in a war for only 21 years since 1776? I s that how we want to define our national identity, 21 years of peacetime in 239 years of existence? The Christian tradition that powers much of our identity is not peace-loving, God is not averse to war, read the histories. GW Bush said that God told him to invade Iraq. (Denied by the WH.) Where is the imagination hiding that will be needed to escape the mistakes of our past and make room for all of us Americans?
If the Scotus won't agree that the 14th amendement renders the Treasury debt limit unconstitutional then a leaf should be taken out of FDR's playbook to show them that the people are the boss.
Heather, I bet there’s not one person in Congress who knows the information you gave us. There are so many lawmakers yet these facts elude them. Today, my Congressman, Mark DeSaulnier, revealed “Plan B” that the Dems will propose if the debt ceiling debacle isn’t agreed upon. DeSaulnier and others referred to a “discharge petition”. All of the Dems will sign this petition but they need to convince 5 Republicans to go along with it. The petition forces the Republicans to make a debt limit vote. This can be dicey but it’s a bold move by the otherwise polite Dems. The issue is finding 5 Repubs who will be brave and go against the norm, probably moderate Repubs. If there’s any left, that is.
Thank you for this enlightening history. Seems clear to me. Rest well, Professor.
Newt started this BS and Democrats should end it.
"...The validity of the public debt of the United States...shall not be questioned..."
The meaning is very simple and very clear. We will always repay our debts.
The phrase "The full faith and credit of the United States" is heavy with meaning. Our monetary system is based on faith. People around the world believe that our money will hold its value through time. It won't just evaporate tomorrow. History offers many examples of monetary systems that suddenly ceased to have any value.
Our "fiat" system of money offers many advantages over monetary systems backed by gold, for example. Because we are a monetarily sovereign nation, we can create money when necessary to pay our debts. The House could refuse to issue new debt by suspending the practice of "deficit spending", relying entirely on revenue for spending. But that's not the issue with the debt ceiling, which refers to money already spent.
Congress routinely commits to spending beyond revenue receipts, which we refer to as "deficit spending". Treasury issues bonds and various instruments as a way to finance that deficit spending. The Federal Reserve buys and sells those bonds on the Open Market.
The viability of our system depends on us making good on our promise to redeem those Treasury instruments on demand. If we fail to return a bond-holder's money, it means we are defaulting on our debt. It would represent our breaking our iron-clad promise to ALWAYS repay our debts. It would break the faith. We need to keep the faith: "the full faith and credit of the United States".
America needs more discretionary spending, not less. Give America Biden's second infrastructure bill. Watch our economy grow and our national debt decrease. There is nothing Republicans fear more than a successful America.
So, as usual, the government for the people, by the people, etc, etc comes down,to a pretty shaky proposition. Our president chosen every 4 years not by the 150 million people that voted for or against them but by a handful of them - the outdated and ill understood Electoral College . And now the economic balance of the entire world is being decided by the same number of people.
What could possibly go wrong?
(I should have moved to Canada when I was dodging the Vietnam War. They had Gordon Lightfoot 【RIP】)
Thank you Heather.
I have been researching the 14th Amendment. It is clear that the GOP are infringing on this Ammendment. Yet we are living in times where rules have become meaningless.
The GOP have dug their heels in and any backtracking would be perceived as weakness. Weakness for the sake of the Nation will be our downfall.
I don't see the inflection point when they will understand that this isn't merely a talking point.
Be safe. Be well.
What a fabulously told history, Dr. Richardson! Without explicit reference to the present, you have set the current crisis in dramatic relief so that readers can see it for what it is: a struggle of average citizens against the privileged or crazed few who have stacked the political cards in their favor. May the Fourteenth Amendment prevail against those who would destroy democracy to win.
End of terms bring exhaustion, so thank you for going the extra mile while under that pressure. Now, take a break and rest well.