In answer to a debt limit question in his January 14 press conference, President Obama said, “Congress has to pay its bills. If they want to keep this responsibility …” Here was a thinly veiled threat that he would by-pass Congress and authorize a higher debt ceiling on his own.
But, there’s something worse afoot. By suggesting in his answer to the press conference question that Congress’ responsibility could be taken away, Obama spoke in contravention of the Constitution. As a purported Constitutional scholar, he should know better.
The responsibility to pay the nation’s bills is not Congress’ to give up or have taken away. The Constitution expressly gives that responsibility to Congress alone. Article I, Section 8 specifically states, “The Congress shall have power … to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States…” And, Section 9 provides, “No money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by law…” An act by the President to exceed a debt ceiling authorized by law would be in direct violation of these Constitutional provisions.
This isn’t the first time that Obama has opposed the Constitution. In a 2001 interview on Chicago’s NPR, in support of the use of the Constitution to redistribute wealth he said, “(The Constitution) Says what the states can’t do to you. Says what the federal government can’t do to you, but doesn’t say what the federal government or state government must do on your behalf.” Aside from a supposed Constitutional expert getting the concept of States’ Rights so totally wrong, Obama shows in this statement what powers he wants the Constitution to confer and they’re clearly beyond those set forth by the Founders.
Perhaps President Obama wants the American people to forget that he’s the one who is responsible for racking up much of the debt in the first place. Or, that the only budget he submitted to the Senate (he never submitted one to the House) was defeated unanimously. Or, that the Senate, controlled by his party, has not passed a budget in the entire four years of his Administration
Perhaps he doesn’t want the American people to know that, without an approved current budget, he is free to spend at the old rates, thereby creating the excess bills he insists on Congress’ paying. He claims to be open to negotiations, but refuses even to discuss the many spending proposals sent to him by the House.
The idea of the balance of powers, central to the concept of the Constitution, was set up to prevent the assumption of just such power by the President. Obama and other Presidents have taken unilateral action in the past, but never since FDR’s attempt to pack the Supreme Court has a President attempted to take for himself a power so basic to the operation of the nation itself.
When he was sworn in, President Obama promised to uphold the Constitution and will do so again in the swearing in for his second term. He would be coming perilously close to breaking that promise should he carry out the powers he threatens to wrench from Congress.