Shortly after the 2010 midterms, as the newly elected House Republican majority was poised to start governing (I use the word loosely), they GOP officials had an idea for a symbolic gesture: they’d read the entire Constitution out loud. In January of this year, as the new Congress got underway, they did it again.
There wasn’t any harm in this, of course, but there wasn’t any point, either. It seemed to be the Republicans’ way of reminding the political world that they are the ones who truly love the Constitution. Sure, there are parts conservatives don’t like (the establishment clause, promoting the general welfare), and the right is eager to amend the document in a wide variety of ways, but for Tea Partiers and their allies, the Constitution has no greater champions than far-right congressional Republicans.
And if that’s still the case, Kristin Roberts has some bad news for them.
Have Republicans forgotten that they too must abide by the Constitution?
The document is explicit in its instruction to America’s federally elected officials – make good on the country’s debts. “The validity of the public debt of the United States,” the 14th Amendment states, “shall not be questioned.”
This is not some arcane biblical reference that needs to be translated from scraps of parchment. In fact, its purpose and intent are fairly well documented.
There’s been quite a bit of talk about exotic tactics President Obama may have to consider if congressional Republicans choose to push the United States into default on purpose. Maybe the White House can pursue a “14th Amendment option.” Maybe he can mint a “platinum $1 trillion coin.” Maybe the Treasury can create “Super Premium Bonds.” Maybe the president can do something to protect Americans from those who would do us deliberate harm, even if those people happen to be elected members of Congress. After all, if the validity of the public debt of the United States shall not be questioned, doesn’t Obama have a constitutional obligation to protect us from Republicans’ sociopathic tendencies?
Maybe it’s time to turn the question around on those who like to wrap themselves in the Constitution they claim to revere.
As this relates to Obama, there’s some disagreement among credible experts about whether the president can act unilaterally to circumvent the debt-ceiling law. Obama himself addressed the point yesterday, arguing that it really is up to Congress to complete this simple task and it wouldn’t do any good for him to experiment with creative alternatives.
But that only helps reinforce the importance of the question for congressional Republicans who swear to support the Constitution before they’re permitted to hold office. The document says, “The validity of the public debt of the United States shall not be questioned.” It doesn’t say anything about justifying extortion schemes, or holding the public debt hostage, or protecting the integrity of U.S. finances in exchange for right-wing goodies to satisfy U.S. House candidates who won fewer votes than their rivals.
Likewise, Article IV, Section 1 of the Constitution – known as the Full Faith and Credit Clause – doesn’t include any asterisks about what happens when one party really hates health care reform.
When the 14th Amendment was ratified, U.S. Sen. Benjamin Wade, an Ohio Republican, argued, “Every man who has property in the public funds will feel safer when he sees that the national debt is withdrawn from the power of a Congress to repudiate it and placed under the guardianship of the Constitution than he would feel if it were left at loose ends and subject to the varying majorities which may arise in Congress.”
Today’s congressional Republicans are prepared – some are eager – to betray this commitment, ignore their constitutional responsibilities, and put Americans’ wellbeing at risk for no particular reason.
Those who claim to cherish the Constitution have some explaining to do.