The debt ceiling debate has brought out three specious arguments from Democrats, say David Rivkin and Lee Casey, partners at law firm Baker Hostetler and officials in the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, respectively.
“The first is that Congress' failure to raise the debt ceiling will cause a default on the national debt,” they write in The Wall Street Journal
. “The second is that federal entitlement programs are constitutionally protected from spending cuts. The third is that the president can raise the debt ceiling on his own authority.”
As for the first argument, the federal government can pay its bills with the $200 billion of tax revenue it receives per month, the lawyers argue. “If the executive chose to act irresponsibly and unconstitutionally and failed to make any debt payments when they come due, debt-holders would be able to go to the Court of Federal Claims and promptly obtain a money judgment.”
As for entitlements, “despite White House claims that Congress must raise the debt ceiling to pay the bills it has incurred, the obligations protected as ‘debts’ by the 14th Amendment do not include entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security,” Rivkin and Casey write.
The "public debt" covered by the amendment consists of federal government borrowings through bonds and similar financial instruments. “Entitlement programs are instead political measures that are fully subject to the general rule that one Congress cannot, by simple legislation, prevent a future Congress from making cuts,” the duo says.
Numerous Democrats claim that the president can use Section 4 of the 14th amendment as justification to lift the debt ceiling by himself. That’s “manifestly incorrect and constitutionally dangerous,” Rivkin and Casey write. “Section 4 grants no power whatsoever to the president. Instead, the 14th Amendment grants Congress the ‘power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.’"
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