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I first wrote the essay that appears below the squiggle for my personal website a couple weeks ago and sent it to all the Democratic officials and media friends that I know in my area. Few realized that the pending disaster wasn't the "cliff" but the "ceiling" and that it was approaching fast.  Now it's official, as described in this letter that Geither sent to congress yesterday from the N.Y. Times article,Geithner Puts Issue of Debt Limit in Writing

The title, the Grabber of my article was, "Fiscal Warfare, What Would Lincoln Do."  Now, with the official warning that this is upon us, a grabber shouldn't be needed. But the consequences of this ceiling, more specifically the executive respecting the legitimacy of this legislative restriction, is still not appreciated by the public, as even the N.Y. Times after printing the letter yesterday, has nothing about on the first page,

Many prominent Democrats such as Howard Dean have stated that "falling off the Cliff" could actually be a good thing   Not a single individual in either party has said the same for the consequences of the "hitting the ceiling"  the U.S. not paying its myriad ongoing contractual obligations, such as treasury bonds, salaries or pensions.  This is no longer about political hardball and who will win another skirmish between left and right, which this website focuses on, but something much more dire.  

"Lincoln, the film" is on track to run the table for this years Academy Awards.  My interest is that one particular individual sees it, and perhaps sits through it for several showings.  And then, he is motivated to explore what it means to be President of the United States, looking at others who have held this position across the political landscape, from Andrew Jackson, Franklyn Roosevelt, Harry Truman and back to Thomas Jefferson.

What these men have in common is certainly not political philosophy, party identity or background.  Yet, they all understood and embraced the Presidency of the United States as more than what is adumbrated in Article two of the Constitution.  They all understood in their own way that the position not only allows, but requires, taking steps that transcended the constitutional limits of their office.  It was this understanding of the presidency, not as the highest ranking bureaucrat, but as wearer of the mantle reserved to those charged with the ultimate defense of the nation that elected them to the office.

Before proceeding let me say that I supported Obama in the recent election, not uncritically, but as the best choice of the options available.  I have also refuted, even at the loss of a long time friendship, those who personally demeaned or imputed nefarious hidden goals to him.  Yet, at this time I see a need to direct that same passion I expressed in his defense to rouse his supporters to reverse a grave error that is about to be made.

President Barack Obama hasformally stated this month that if  the House of Representatives blocks a bill to increase the debt ceiling that will be reached in the next few weeks, that he will discontinue disbursements for the multitude of programs and projects funded by the federal government by about a third.  What is ironic, is that there is expert legal opinion that argues that he is not required to do this, that he has the right to continue to pay the obligations authorized by law.

There is a disconnect in the analysis of this pending standoff that demands correction.  It is widely depicted as radical conservatives, "tea party loyalists,"  who are in opposition to the reasonable left of center President.   Unfortunately, this does not provide the most meaningful perspective of what is occurring,  as indicated by its ineffectiveness in preventing the slow motion train wreck that we are watching as helpless bystanders.

The more useful analysis is that of an internal rebellion, not unlike what occurred at Fort Sumter a century and half ago, but this time not being met with all appropriate force, but with a verbal tongue lashing.  Ignoring the debt ceiling is not denying the House of its constitutional  "power of the purse strings" as every reduction can be made prospectively in a budget that they initiate.   It is sad for me to say that Barack Obama, in ruling out challenging the validity of the boycott by the Republican House, is acting as the constitutional law professor,which is quite different than the position to which he was elected.

His disagreement with scholars who conclude that the 14th Amendment gives him the legal right to ignore the debt limit is irrelevant.  Jefferson's summary purchase of the Louisiana Territory was not authorized by the constitution.  He knew it, yet he also knew his actual charge as President, so he signed the contract, and his contemporaries understanding this deeper meaning of the position he held, never even contested his action.

Throughout our history, for reasons both noble and debased, Presidents have transcended the limits of their nominal power.  After Jefferson,  there was Jackson, who in an action now condemned ignored the ruling of the Supreme court with the words, "John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it"  Jumping ahead, in an action now lauded by historians Wikipedia describes, " the defeat of France loomed, President Roosevelt bypassed the Neutrality Act by declaring as "surplus" many millions of rounds of American ammunition and obsolescent small arms, and authorizing their shipment to the United Kingdom."

I'm old enough to remember when Harry Truman went against his own political constituency to nationalize the steel industry to end a strike in 1952.  His advisors certainly told him that it was probably unconstitutional, as it was, being overruled by a 6 to 3 decision by the Supreme Court; but this did not deter him for a minute. We were at war in Korea, and steel was a vital commodity;  so he acted in the nations interest as he saw it.  His reading of history told him that doing any less would be an abrogation of his responsibilities.

What Truman, the history book devouring high school graduate knew that Obama, the Constitutional scholar, seems oblivious of, is there is a part of constitutional jurisprudence that he may not have learned in law school.  It falls under the rubric of "The Constitution is not a suicide pact."  meaning in short, that all of the laws, precedents and rulings of courts are subordinated to the survival of the enterprise which we call The United States of America.  And the person who is authorized to exercise such authority is the elected President, when he is doing it for this purpose and none other.  And that the members of the Supreme court, when acting as patriots, are charged to defer to such actions.

As a country we are protected from annihilation by military invasion, yet the danger remains of collapse of  any of the complex transnational relationships that allow our world to continue along its challenging path.  A central one is our economic system, based on intertwining public and private assumptions, one of which being the integrity of  American financial obligations. We are now in a position where those representing a minority of American citizens, by their position in a single house of our bicameral federal legislature are threatening to destroy the keystone of this vital international system.

The President of the United States, as of this moment has stated that, unlike his greatest predecessors, he will not go beyond the letter of the law to defeat this threat that has unknowable consequences.   If the worst outcome follows from this cutoff of funds, not only will his party share the blame, but he will be known not for his tepid arguments against those who refused to pass the extension, but for being the President who refused to accept the higher responsibility of his position, which is doing everything possible to ensure the survival of his country.


From N.Y. Times, that the ceiling can be ignored:
The 14th Amendment, the Debt Ceiling and a Way Out
and this article.

Argument against
A Ceiling We Can’t Wish Away

Wikipedia article on history of authorization for increasing national debt.

Originally posted to ARODB on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 08:04 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  He seems prepared (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    johnny wurster, notrouble, linkage

    to use the strategy employed by Bill Clinton when faced with government shutdown due to an intransigent Republican House and Speaker: let the chips fall and bet that the country will blame the Republicans.

    "A lie is not the other side of a story; it's just a lie."

    by happy camper on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 07:17:14 PM PST

    •  No, the Republicans will (0+ / 0-)

      say that they expected the President to call their bluff, but he let the country go down the drain for political purposes. I have no idea why he isn't calling their bluff.  

      What can they do, impeach him?

      •  This may be a dumb question, but (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        what would "calling their bluff" mean in this case?

        If it means invoking the 14th Amendment or other (claimed) Constitutional authority to bypass the debt ceiling, then I think we will never, ever hear the Republicans say that they expected the President to do that -- except in a context wherein they're threatening impeachment if he does so. The Republicans would look ridiculous if they hinted that the President should bail them out by doing this.

        Or did you mean something else that I'm missing?

        Let us all have the strength to see the humanity in our enemies, and the courage to let them see the humanity in ourselves.

        by Nowhere Man on Wed Dec 26, 2012 at 07:44:48 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  If we stop paying our bills, (6+ / 0-)

          and the markets around the world collapse.  THEN they would say that they never expected him to actually not pay the appropriated obligations.

          It was the president who controls the Treasury.  He need not evoke any explanation, but simply pay the damn bills that congress appropriated.

          It's up to them to get an injunction, and if the Supremes tell him not to pay the bills, then he may stop, but it was the Republican house and court that is then responsible.

          This is a pending disaster, and he is playing law professor.

  •  It took the Secretary of the Treasury (0+ / 0-)

    this long to do the math?

    •  There were articles weeks ago when I wrote... (4+ / 0-)

      my essay that is now this diary.  But no one seemed to get how this so much greater a disaster than the Fiscal Cliff.  This means cancellation of ongoing committed projects, and cutting millions of federal obligations.

      Obama seems oblivious and I don't even know if he is aware of the nature of his opponents, who like the south in the civil war, were happy to die for their cause.

      They will bring down the country, that they despise anyhow.

  •  He's got this. (5+ / 0-)

    He's better qualified to make this decision than any of us here, and also has his choice of the top legal and political minds in the country to get advice from.  I am very confident that he'll make th right call.

  •  I take issue with this: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FG, johnny wurster

    "And that the members of the Supreme court, when acting as patriots, are charged to defer to such actions."

    If the President wants to go ahead and break the law (like Jackson did after Cherokee Nation), fine.  But the Supreme Court shouldn't be complicit and just authorize the action to support the president.  If the president declared martial law out of necessity, there's nothing the Supreme Court could do to stop him if he's not inclined to listen to their ruling.  That doesn't mean they should just kowtow to him and declare his actions legal when they're not.  

  •  Are all the laws, but one, to go unexecuted and (5+ / 0-)

    the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated

    Abraham Lincoln to a joint session of Congress on his reasoning for ignoring a court ruling ordering the release of civilian Confederate sympathizers being held by the US Army in military prisons (Ex Parte Merryman case)

    •  Yep, you get the idea... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      barry s, Wendys Wink, phonegery

      but very few here do.  I wonder why?

      •  The GOP wants to destroy the USA (3+ / 0-)

        as we know it and return to the some 1850s Randian ideal that never existed.  

        I think President Obama has the right, indeed the obligation and duty, to take such action to thwart the GOP in their efforts.

        •  If the GOP "wants to destroy the USA," is that not (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          andersr, phonegery, gzodik

          treason? If not, why not?

          I don't think the GOP, in mass, wants to destroy the USA. But, they have a really funny way of showing it. I believe that the plutocracts and oligarchy wants to destroy the USA and complete thier global initiative of having a ruling class and the rest of the world works for them, rather than their nation. They call it "Globalization," which is a fancy term for only one nation called Greed.

          They won't win in the end.

          So, there you have it, but whadda ya got?

          by Wendys Wink on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 05:57:25 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  They want to destroy the engine of economic growth (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Wendys Wink, mike101

            that made the USA a modern power.

            The fundamental plank in the 1860s GOP platform was using federal power to aid economic development. From tariffs used to protect embryonic industries, to using federal resources to build the transcontinental railroad, to the Morrill Act to provide those embryonic industries with highly trained workers, the GOP of Lincoln's Era was committed to federal involvement in the economy.

            The Nawab of the current GOP, Grover Norquist, would not have allowed any of those acts to pass.

  •  Obama does as he chooses (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    arodb, nchristine, jrooth, limpidglass

    He chose not to investigate or prosecute war crimes, Wall Street crimes, illegal spying, targeted killing of American citizens, etc.  He has continued the Bush policy of having the Justice Department under his political control. If Obama wanted to use the 14th amendment he could; he chooses not to.

    Obama does think he is like Lincoln, only unlike war, where you must be on one side or the other, he sees himself aligned with the Republicans to the largest extent, and in a battle with his own party's progressives as to how much he can concede. Obama wants a Grand Bargain, and he continues to use whatever opportunities present themselves in pursuit of it.  That is all he cares about, period.  He is intent on forcing his vision of shared pain on this country, no matter how disproportionately it gets dispensed. Using the 14th amendment would only reduce leverage he needs to achieve his grand bargain and the screwing of the majority of this country in the process.

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