Don’t wave Constitution in debt’s face


Juliette Kayyem
The Boston Globe
July 11, 2011

AT A Senate hearing in May, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner held up a copy of the Constitution and read a relatively unknown clause of the 14th Amendment. The Civil War-era provision appeared to give the president – not Congress – the responsibility for making sure all debts incurred by the United States are paid promptly. Geithner’s reading of the clause drew little immediate attention.

But as the government moves closer to its Aug. 2 default deadline, this constitutional provision is sure to get ever-greater attention. It’s an odd clause. After all, the debate over tax hikes, entitlement reform, and lower spending that is currently underway to justify raising the debt ceiling is perfectly suited to our political parties. The weighty Constitution would appear to have nothing to say on the matter.

But the clause, which states “(t)he validity of the public debt of the United States . . . shall not be questioned,’’ has the potential to alter the fiscal debate. More than a few Democrats are suggesting that President Obama can just ignore this whole messy partisan business and order the Treasury to keep paying the debt.

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