Integrity Legal

28th July 2011

It recently came to this blogger’s attention that some in the American Capital are urging the United States President to unilaterally raise the American debt ceiling notwithstanding apparent lack of Congressional approval for such action. In order to provide further elucidation on these developments it is necessary to quote directly from the official website of Politico, Politico.com:

Rep. James Clyburn and a group of House Democrats are urging President Barack Obama to invoke the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling if Congress can’t come up with a satisfactory plan before the Tuesday deadline. Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, said Wednesday that if the president is delivered a bill to raise the debt ceiling for only a short period of time, he should instead veto it and turn to the phrase in the Constitution that says the validity of the U.S. government’s debt “shall not be questioned…”

The administration of this blog strongly encourages readers to click upon the relevant hyperlinks noted above to read this fascinating article in detail.

An interesting facet of the quotation cited above is the fact that political obfuscation seems to be in use in order to misdirect the public from the glaring logical disparity between the notion of an American President unilaterally raising the American debt ceiling and the clearly delineated separation of powers in the Constitution (the separation between the powers of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches) which explicitly rejects such a notion. Furthermore, some commentators have noted that Congress has explicitly set a debt ceiling thereby manifesting their political will with regard to the raising of American debt. To provide further insight it is necessary to quote directly from the Financial Times website, FT.com:

If there is no increase in the debt ceiling by August 2, then the Treasury will not have enough money to meet all its commitments without borrowing more money, which it will not be able to do without breaking a wartime law from 1917 that created the debt ceiling.

This blogger asks readers to click upon the relevant hyperlinks above to read this article in detail.  Further relevant insight is found by quoting directly from the aforementioned section of the 14th Amendment which is posted upon the Wikipedia website, Wikipedia.org:

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States…

This blogger asks readers to click upon the relevant hyperlinks noted above to read about the 14th Amendment and its history in detail.

The important phrase in the above citation is “authorized by law”. To provide illumination regarding the importance of this phrase it is necessary to understand how American law is made. In order for a law to be enacted in the United States it must be passed by the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate before being placed upon the desk of the American President for either signature (which denotes enactment) or veto (which can result in the overall defeat of a proposed bill). Should the President veto a piece of proposed legislation then that piece of legislation can overcome said veto only if the House and Senate vote by a 2/3 majority to enact said legislation. Nowhere has it ever been noted that the American President may unilaterally impose debt upon the American public without authorization from the peoples’ representatives in the body of the United States Congress. In fact Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution vests exclusive authority to raise debt in the Congress, to quote directly from the enumerated powers of the United States Constitution as noted on the Wikipedia website Wikipedia.org:

The Congress shall have power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

To establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current coin of the United States;

To establish Post Offices and post Roads;

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;—And

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

The administration of this web log asks readers to click upon the relevant hyperlinks noted above to read more about these powers.

Clearly, Congress is the only branch of the American government with the enumerated power to authorize the borrowing of funds in the name of the American People. Therefore, the notion that a President taking such action unilaterally and without the approval of Congress is spurious, fallacious, and downright dangerous as it goes against the plain language of the enumerated powers noted in the provisions of the Constitution itself. Here is an interesting further point to ponder: could the unilateral action of a President which raises the debt level of the United States, notwithstanding Congressional refusal to do so, be construed to be a “debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States” since said action would expressly contradict the will of the Congress (as manifested in the form of the debt ceiling itself) which, pursuant to the provisions of Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, has the exclusive authority “To borrow Money on the credit of the United States”? It is a rather subtle point, but an interesting one nonetheless.

Issues pertaining to the American debt ceiling can, as noted in previous postings on this web log, have an impact upon Consular Processing since every US Embassy, US Consulate, or American Mission abroad could face closure in the face of a US government shutdown that could arise as a result of a failure to reach an agreement regarding the American debt ceiling. There is a theoretical possibility that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) could remain open despite a Government Shutdown since that agency is self-funded. However, such a development remains to be seen. That stated, in order to overcome this obstacle American legislators need to engage in a good faith negotiation regarding the US debt. Using specious arguments to propose questionably legal activities serves no good purpose since such activity could result adverse circumstances for all concerned.

–Benjamin Walter Hart

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