Bryan Fischer
GOP debt ceiling gambit bad politics and unconstitutional to boot
By Bryan Fischer
January 24, 2013

Follow me on Twitter: @BryanJFischer, on Facebook at "Focal Point"

The GOP debt ceiling ploy is simply a further display of Republican fecklessness in the face of monumental challenges.

The plan, roughly speaking, is to raise the debt ceiling without it looking like that's what they are doing. The legislation would declare the statutory debt limit "shall not apply" until May 18. So in a Mickey Mouse maneuver that doesn't fool anybody, the GOP is borrowing a boat load of money but sort of pretending they are not.

Constitutionally, I'm not even sure the Republicans can do this. Congress and Congress alone has the authority, according to Article I, Section 8, "To borrow Money on the credit of the United States." If the GOP wants to borrow more money, then they not only should say say so, they must say so.

This "shall not apply" business is hogwash. The precedent this sets is that any part of the Constitution Congress does not like it can simply set aside by legislative fiat. If the Republicans get away with a "temporary suspension of the debt ceiling," what would stop a Democratic Congress from calling for a "permanent suspension" of the debt ceiling, or for a "temporary suspension of the Second Amendment," for that matter? Nothing that I can see.

The problem here is that Republicans do not identify the specific amount by the which the ceiling will be raised. The debt ceiling will simply be adjusted upward on May 18 to match whatever egregious overspending has occurred in the interim. There are some superficial guardrails in the legislation, but in the hands of a president who now claims increased second-term "flexibility," such restrictions will be as putty in his hands.

The actual language prohibits any expenditure other than those "necessary to to fund a commitment incurred by the Federal Government that required payment before May 19, 2003." Expect to see a raft of new financial commitments, all of which mysteriously require satisfaction by the magical mystery date.

Jay Carney refused earlier this week to specify the amount of increase the president is going to demand. But here the GOP has simply handed the president a blank check, and essentially invited him to write in whatever amount he wants as long as he spends it in the next three months.

Does anybody else see the insanity in this? The GOP has just handed President Obama the nation's credit card, with no meaningful debt limit whatsoever. He can now borrow and spend himself dizzy over the next 90 days with the full permission of the party that is supposed to consist of fiscally responsible lawmakers.

Further, the legislation is blatantly unconstitutional. It would place senatorial paychecks in some sort of holding tank starting in April unless and until the Senate passes a budget. Now mind you there are no limits on what this budget must look like, no demand that it balance, pretend to balance, or not include enormous tax increases. So if the Democrats want their paychecks, all they have to do is pass the most irresponsible, bloated budget it is possible to imagine, and bingo, payday.

If this looks a plan to reward foolishness and irresponsibility, I would argue that appearances in this case are not deceiving.

Worse, the GOP plan is flatly and egregiously unconstitutional. Here is the wording of the 27th Amendment, in its entirety: "No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened." (Emphasis mine.)

Well, withholding compensation as the legislative equivalent of not being given your allowance is certainly a variation on compensation. The point of this amendment is to prevent a sitting Congress from giving itself a pay raise, but the language prevents "varying the compensation" in any way, which means in any direction, including as a tool to punish or motivate political adversaries. Any adjustments in compensation can only go into effect after the next election, which means this plan would have no constitutional legitimacy whatsoever until January of 2015 at the earliest. C'mon, guys, we're supposed to be the team that plays by the rules.

Even worse, the president and Harry Reid have signaled they do not oppose this bill. Here is the statement from the White House (emphasis mine): "Although H.R. 325 is a short-term measure and introduces unnecessary complications, needlessly perpetuating uncertainty in the Nation's fiscal system, the Administration is encouraged that H.R. 325 lifts the immediate threat of default and indicates that congressional Republicans have backed off an insistence on holding the Nation's economy hostage to extract drastic cuts in Medicare, education, and other programs that middle-class families depend on."

And why would the Democrats oppose this bill? The Senate under Reid can pass whatever budget they want, and the president can spend as much money as he wants. All this means is that this stratagem is not the artistic and shrewd thing of beauty the GOP wants us to believe. In reality, they are getting played for chumps again.

The solution is simple: for the House Republicans to just say a firm, flat, unambiguous "No" to any increase in the debt ceiling. If they do, the United States will have a balanced budget by the close of business that day, without the hassle of trying to amend our Constitution or corral irresponsible Democrats.

Pundits speak as though the Republicans have no leverage. The truth is that they have all the leverage it is possible to have. Nothing can happen, not a dollar of unauthorized spending can take place, without their complicity. The president is completely hamstrung by the fact that, while he won the election for the White House, the Republicans won the election for the People's House.

All the Republicans lack, to give the American people an instantaneous balanced budget, is testosterone. They have the authority; all they lack is the will.

Elections have consequences, and one of those consequences is that the GOP, and not President Obama, is in total control of government spending.

Democracy is a beautiful thing. Or at least it could be, if Republicans were to open their eyes and recognize it.

(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)

© Bryan Fischer


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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