early “debt deal” thoughts…

I’m still processing information regarding the debt-ceiling increase agreement that was finally made law this afternoon.  My sister asked me what I thought of it, and all I could really say was, “Well, I’m glad they found a way to avoid default, but it never, ever should have come to this.”

There’s still a lot to be explored/analyzed/discussed about the legislation itself and how it came to pass (no pun intended), and I’m hoping to do those very things.  Particularly in terms of the President’s “performance” in the process.

In the meantime, this op-ed in today’s ‘Times’ got me thinking.  And not necessarily in an agreeable way.

Now, it bothers me not one bit that Nocera goes so far as to call the Tea Party’s actions of late “jihad on the American People.”  I think he’s simply speaking the objective truth.  Maybe it’s not particularly decorous to refer to congressional colleagues, even Tea Partiers, as terrorists.  But it goes a long way towards accurately describing their behavior and ascertaining their mindset.  These Tea Partiers, as Nocera (and plenty of others) has mentioned, are perfectly content to “go down with the ship”… or, “throw the baby out with the bath water”… or, any other cliche that describes such irrational decision making.  They have taken a bare electoral mandate for fiscal responsibility and used it to risk the welfare and stability of the very country they swore an oath to serve.

No, it’s not Nocera’s description of the Tea Party that gets me.  Interestingly, it’s the means he would have preferred to exercise in opposing them.  That is, as he put it:

My own view is that Obama should have played the 14th Amendment card, using its language about “the validity of the public debt” to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling. Yes, he would have infuriated the Republicans, but so what? They already view him as the Antichrist. Legal scholars believe that Congress would not have been able to sue to overturn his decision. Inexplicably, he chose instead a course of action that maximized the leverage of the Republican extremists.

He has every right to advocate this sort of action, but I find it to be a flawed argument.

First, I’ve never taken much stock in the fourteenth amendment “option.”  I’m not one you would generally peg as a Constitutional “originalist,” but it seems quite clear to me that the debt-related clause in this amendment referred specifically to debt accrued in the Civil War.  Sure, since it declares that the “full faith and credit” of the United States cannot be questioned, the clause can be interpreted to guarantee all federal debt issued at any time.  But that seems to me a perilously loose reading of the amendment, particularly when it leads to an argument that the debt ceiling is altogether unconstitutional.  The Constitution very clearly affords the power to issue debt to Congress alone.

But secondly, and more importantly, as irresponsible as it has been for Republicans to manufacture the current crisis over the debt ceiling, it would have been just as irresponsible for the president to manufacture a second one over executive authority.  Put another way, arguing for the “14th Amendment” option — particularly on the belief, as Nocera asserts, that no court would dare to strike the action down — is essentially asking the president to govern with an attitude of “I’m going to do this potentially unconstitutional thing simply because I don’t think you’re going to bother trying to stop me.”  That would be governing like an asshole.

And that would make him a Republican.

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