With the debt ceiling crisis continuing with only, gosh, let me check the Washington Post countdown clock, five days and nine hours remaining until the August 2 deadline, more people are talking about possible unilateral presidential moves to raise the ceiling, such as invoking the 14th Amendment, selling options to the Fed, or bizarrely, coining two trillion-dollar coins in a move reminiscent of the “trillion dollar bill” episode of the Simpsons.
The question is: Will Obama act unilaterally – solving the debt crisis with the ‘stroke of a pen’ – if it comes down to it?
I think there’s a good case to make that he’s prepared to do so. (Also see Paul E. Peterson, who makes a similar argument.) Everything up to this point has set the stage for an administration argument that there is a serious crisis coming and the Republicans (or, more specifically, the radical Republican Tea Party fringe) has precipitated it. Obama has done his best to show that he has negotiated in good faith – even risking the opprobrium of his own party. Harry Reid in the Senate has produced a bill that more or less does what the Republicans have always said they wanted. Still, there’s no deal. The president might be positioning himself to claim that he had no choice but to act on his own to save the country from ruin. The 14th Amendment (which stipulates that the “validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law…shall not be questioned”) seems as good an excuse as any.
What can the Republicans do if Obama does this? They can impeach him, but acquittal in the Senate would be a certainty and the last time the Republicans impeached the president it didn’t work in their favor. They can take the case to the Supreme Court, but individual members of Congress don’t have standing to do so, and even if an official case could be brought, it might take a long time to resolve. They can whine about it, but Obama can always claim his hand was forced.
Conventional wisdom on the left seems to be that Obama is a sellout and a compromiser. But he’s shown himself to be willing to flout Congress’s authority (almost blithely) when it suits his purposes. Look at Libya.