The United States might be on its way to being a deadbeat nation. In addition to being shameful, this would also be rather damaging for our economy and our reputation. It would be nice to think that congress would not make something so serious into a political game, but such is the way of politicians these days: the only good greater than the good of their party is their own good. The debt ceiling provides an excellent cow to milk for political points, so it is being milked away.
Given that not addressing the debt ceiling would be a disaster, it is no surprise that there have been various proposals to deal with the matter. So far these have been what amount to political spackling paste and what is needed is something a bit more solid.
While Obama seems interested in reaching an agreement of some sort, Tim Geithner seems considering playing some constitutional hard ball. He recently made note of a key part of the 14th Amendment: the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for the payments of pension and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion shall not be questioned.”
While I am not a Constitutional scholar, this does seem to clearly state that the debt must be paid. As such, it would seem that Congress cannot pass any law that would forbid the paying of the public debt. This would, it seems, entail that a Republican maneuver that would result in a failure to pay said debt would be unconstitutional.
The Republicans have already anticipated that this card might be played. Tim Scott has made it clear that such a move on Obama’s part could trigger the Republicans to launch an impeachment attempt. It is not clear at this point how that would play out and what sort of impact it might have. On the one hand, this move might seem to be absurd, given that Obama would seem to have the Constitution on his side (assuming he played it correctly). On the other hand, this sort of move by Obama could be reasonably regarded as an attempt to usurp the constitutionally specified powers of congress. From a purely practical standpoint, such a move is not without its risks and possible rewards. On the reward side, going after Obama might enable the Republicans to score political points for 2012. On the risk side, going after the president so as to prevent America from paying her debts might not play out favorably for the Republicans.
The Republicans can, of course, argue against an attempt to use the amendment against them. While it does that the debt “shall not be questioned” it also refers to the debt being “authorized by law.” This part would certainly give the Republicans room to argue. For example, they could contend that the debt in question was not authorized by law and hence can be questioned.
In any case, Congress needs to spend wiser, lower spending and increase revenue to address the debt problem. Unfortunately, while they seem to have the will to play the usual political games, they lack the will to do what must be done. To be fair, stepping up and cutting entitlements while increasing taxes would be political suicide. As a whole, Americans seem to generally want to run the country like we run our personal finances: on credit.