• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Senator Predicts Court Challenge If Obama Uses 14th Amendment for Debt

    Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) today predicted lawmakers would take President Obama to court if he deemed the debt ceiling is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment. Liberals have floated the desperate and devious ploy in recent days to avoid spending cuts demanded by conservatives.

    “If the president decides to do that — and that would be his decision and his alone — our only option at that point would probably be to take him to court,” Johnson said this morning on a call with reporters and bloggers. “If he does it, I’m just talking realistically here, I don’t know what Congress could do about it other than take him to court.”

    Johnson, who has no plans to initiate a lawsuit himself, added that it would be a lengthy legal process and not likely to be resolved quickly. He said using the 14th Amendment argument would be a defining moment in Obama’s presidency and a factor in his re-election campaign. Obama has twice dodged direct questions about whether he would do this

    “President Obama simply has not led,” Johnson said. “And let’s face it, that is the No. 1 job criteria of the president of the United States. I don’t know why he wants to be president if he’s not willing to lead.”

    Congress placed a statutory limit on federal debt with passage of the Second Liberty Bond Act in 1917. Lawmakers have raised that limit 74 times since 1962. Only recently have liberals suggested the 1917 law conflicts with the 14th Amendment, which states that the “validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned.”

    Johnson reiterated that he would vote for an increase in the debt ceiling as long as Congress instilled fiscal discipline, enacted a constitutional limitation and hard spending cap. At this point, however, he’s seen no willingness from liberals to budge. That prompted a passionate floor speech and call last week for the Senate to skip its recess.

    They want to continue to spend the way they’ve always spent. They refuse to acknowledge that all these entitlement programs are unsustainable. They refuse to come to the table in good faith to strengthen these programs, to make them sustainable for future generations. They just want to put their head in the sand.

    When asked about today’s reports that the White House might consider making changes to Social Security, Johnson criticized the Obama administration for a lack of transparency in the process.

    “Reporters have more detail about what’s happening here in Washington on these debt-ceiling talks than rank-and-file members of Congress,” he said. “And to me, that’s outrageous, it’s disgusting, it’s not the way the process should work.”

    UPDATE: Reuters reports the Treasury Department is secretly weighing its options to stave off default. Meanwhile, two of Johnson’s Republican colleagues have introduced a Senate resolution that warns Obama not to use the 14th Amendment ploy.

    Posted in Scribe [slideshow_deploy]

    6 Responses to Senator Predicts Court Challenge If Obama Uses 14th Amendment for Debt

    1. Jeff says:

      debt being considered valid is completely different than defaulting on interest payments for that debt … in fact you can only default on valid debt … the valid debt is determined by Congress not Obama …

    2. John Nail says:

      I am going to approach this Constitutional debate from another angle. That President Obama would risk impeachment by NOT acting under the 14th Amendment to prevent default.

      Whether any of us like it or not it this debt ceiling debate is all about the “obligations” that Congress over time has signed into law, not the bonds.

      The ceiling raise has nothing to do with future spending, only that which has already been committed to by this and prior sessions of Congress over out history.

      We elected them, they act via their Constitutional responsibility passes laws/funding programs, we own it and has the “full faith and credit” of the US behind it. These are all laws that then need to be upheld, ie honored.

      The Constitution is by definition the original document plus any and all Amendments to it so trying to separate the two is a specious argument as well.

      In PERRY V. UNITED STATES, 294 U. S. 330 (1935)SCOTUS addreses the larger context of debt as “obligations” that further supports the notion that default would be unconstitutional and thus stopping it would be required of the President:

      “…The government’s contention thus raises a question of far greater importance than the particular claim of the plaintiff. On that reasoning, if the terms of the government’s bond as to the standard of payment can be repudiated, it inevitably follows that the obligation as to the amount to be paid may also be repudiated. The contention necessarily imports that the Congress can disregard the obligations of the government at its discretion, and that, when the government borrows money, the credit of the United States is an illusory pledge.

      We do not so read the Constitution….To say that the Congress may withdraw or ignore that pledge is to assume that the Constitution contemplates a vain promise; a pledge having no other sanction than the pleasure and convenience of the pledgor. This Court has given no sanction to such a conception of the obligations of our government.

      The Fourteenth Amendment, in its fourth section, explicitly declares: ‘The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, * * * shall not be questioned.’ While this provision was undoubtedly inspired by the desire to put beyond question the obligations of the government issued during the Civil War, its language indicates a broader connotation. We regard it as confirmatory of a fundamental principle which applies as well to the government bonds in question, and to others duly authorized by the Congress, as to those issued before the amendment was adopted. Nor can we perceive any reason for not considering the expression ‘the validity of the public debt’ as embracing whatever concerns the integrity of the public obligations.”

      The office of the President as “Chief Executive” is empowered by the Constitution that “he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed”.

      He is also Constitutionally bound by his oath of office:

      “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

      This creates a slippery slope for any President. In other words he has no choice in acting per the Constitution lest he violate his oath and for that could be subject to impeachment.

      A secondary argument, slightly less compelling, is that in his job as Commander in Chief to protect the nation against any threats could be cited here. A default that plunges the nation into another recession and costs the taxpayers hundreds of billions in additional Federal interest payments and billions more in higher credit card, mortgage and consumer loans threatens the nation as much as any war or attack does. Not acting would weaken the nation considerably and his failure to protect the nation from this sort of “attack” would also be seen as a failure to fulfill his oath.

      So the 14th/PERRY V. UNITED STATES makes it clear on the debt’s validity and the fact that it cannot be abrogated in anyway that diminishes the full faith and credit of the nation and its trust with any one owed money via a statute approved by Congress, be it your mom on SS, a cleaning contractor for a federal building or foreign nations holding bonds. All are equally valid and must be honored.

      So no action by Congress is illegal and the Debt Ceiling law in any dispute is trumped by the Constitution. In “Perry” Chief Justice Hughes wrote the majority opinion: “We do not so read the Constitution…the Congress has not been vested with authority to alter or destroy those obligations.”

      Altering those obligations means that the terms of meeting them cannot be changed in anyway so even a default of a few days or a program to pay bills in some order with revenues is not allowed. So inaction that allows any sort of modification is out of the question as well.

      If Obama does not act to avert the crisis if negotiations fail that is a more compelling reason to Impeach than trying to claim that he exceeds his Constitutional power in resolving the crisis using the 14th.

      • Derek P. says:

        Sorry John Nail,
        The 14th amendment, section four clearly states, as you noted yourself: ‘The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, * * * shall not be questioned.’ The key term there being "authorized by law". Who makes the laws? Not the treasury dept., and sure as hell not the potus. The congress makes the laws; they decide.
        Second of all, we're not going to default, no matter what the dems say. The treasury takes in something like $200billion a week! That's more than enough to cover the interest on our debt. And still leave plenty for congress to spend on entitlements…this nonsense under Obama has got to end. Did you see the chart at the top of this page? We don't have a revenue problem we have a spending problem. Pay on our debt and cut everything thing else across the board 10% (including SS, medicare, medicaid, and yes, Defense.)

    3. Bobbie says:

      Does anyone have the vested authority to mis-comprehend the American Constitution, falsely represent it at their convenience and at the expense of those that comprehend and are accustom to it's meaning?

    4. TJ Parker says:

      What an idiot. Mister Idiot: you and the Congress do not have STANDING this case. You may thank Scalia and the conservatives on the Supreme Court for that.

    5. Rocky says:

      He cannot raise the debt ceiling, but he can raise revenue in order to honor the 14th Amendment's prohibition of a default. To avoid a violation of the "supreme" law of the land, he will selectively execute laws on spending by using impoundment. Impoundment of tax expenditures will effectively allow him to raise taxes. http://sunsettheirs.org/theory-of-inverse-impound

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.

    ×