How Do You Solve a Problem like the National Debt?
The Fourteenth Amendment came after the First; if and to the extent that they were inconsistent the Fourteenth would displace the First. The arguments pro and con are much the same; actually, they seem a wee bit stronger vis a vis the First Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment does not say that it in any way abrogates the First, but then neither does it abrogate Article I nor give the president unilateral power to deal with the national debt while keeping Secretary Geithner happy. It actually denies him that authority.
The First Amendment provides,
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; (emphasis added)
Hence, to the extent that "questioning" the validity of the public debt constitutes exercising the right to freedom of speech, as it obviously does, could it be abridged constitutionally through enactment of legislation prohibiting all speech doing so? That seems very unlikely because the Fourteenth Amendment does not even tangentially suggest that it could be. Does questioning the reasonableness of its magnitude mean questioning the validity of the public debt? Does it mean questioning whether moves by the Obama administration resulting in increases in the national debt and reductions in ability to pay it as and when due by spending excessively on stupid stuff and blocking economic growth were egregiously political, designed to solidify its political base, and whether that put the country in horrible shape? Does it mean questioning whether such frivolities as the vacation travels of Mrs. Obama, her retinue, and others to exotic places unduly burden the solvency of the nation and therefore push us further along the path to insolvency? How about questioning whether forcing us into the red by turning green is a bad thing? If so, it probably also means that asserting, rather than merely questioning, such activities could be prohibited.
What could be simpler? A better question would be, what could be sillier? An even better question, however, would be, what does "questioning" the validity of any debt mean? If I acknowledge the legitimacy of private debts I had previously incurred but don't pay them as and when due because I don't have the funds to do so -- or even because I don't want to and would rather spend the money on a vacation in sunny Spain or beautiful Africa and on chartering a luxurious airplane -- maybe even Air Force One should it come to that -- to go there in comfort with my friends -- I do not thereby "question" the validity of those debts; I just don't pay them. I could, of course, actually question their validity and my debts aren't public debts anyway. My creditors, as well as my friends, could question my sanity, responsibility, and prudence; they might cut off my lines of credit and even say nasty things about me; my creditors might sue me; that might awaken me to the results of my idiocy. Perhaps the Obama administration needs to be awakened to the consequences of its idiocy as well.
Amendments to the Constitution have generally been quite specific to the extent that they have superseded previous grants of constitutional rights and federal powers. The Fourteenth Amendment was neither intended nor written to authorize either the Congress or the president to override the freedom of speech guarantee of the First Amendment. Had it been it would have said so. Words similar to these might have been used:
The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. The provisions of the First Amendment that "Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press," to the extent that they would permit questioning the validity of the public debt of the United States, are hereby repealed.
Nothing even remotely similar was included. Had it been a purpose to authorize the president to override Article I, it would have said so rather than reiterate that "The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article. (emphasis added)." Also, had it been the purpose to authorize the executive, without any act of Congress as claimed, to pay the national debt as and when due, it would have said so. Words similar to these might have been used:
The public debt of the United States, authorized by law, shall be repaid in accordance with Article I of this Constitution as and in the amounts due. Should the Congress fail to act in accordance with Article I in time to permit such payment, the President shall use such available funds as he may deem necessary and proper, previously authorized pursuant to Article I for any purpose, to effect compliance with this provision. Should the President find that such funds are insufficient, he shall appropriate or otherwise acquire such additional funds as may be necessary.
Such language might have been used but wasn't.
A properly adopted and ratified constitutional amendment could do just about anything, no matter how stupid, frivolous, or meaningless. It could declare that thunderstorms are contrary to and sins against Gaia and therefore require that the executive bring original actions in the Supreme Court, or unilaterally declare war, against Thor whenever they occur. That such amendments have not been adopted and ratified testifies to the good sense of the people rather than to the impossibility of doing it.
The nation is in a big mess because our
masters public servants have found it expedient to make the mess. While tilting at windmills, they have "kicked the can down the road" to make it not their problem. Now it is our problem as well as theirs. Unless very substantial spending cuts are made, even for uneconomic "green" ways to displace productive sectors of the economy and even for those favored "entitlements" toward which the beneficiaries have not contributed so much as a penny, the situation will continue to fester and to perpetuate generational dependence on Massa the federal government: an even bigger federal plantation. There will be more Government General Motors bailouts. There will be more expensive and not-even-green mercury reliant light bulbs. Maybe even President Obama's mentor, the Reverend Mr. Wright, would agree the chickens have come home to roost. The answer may be blowin' in the wind, but the solution is neither to provide a free chicken in every pot nor even free pot in every chick.
The solution is not to play more games but to make substantial spending cuts. We could do very well without the nonsense and get to work cutting spending. If we don't things will just get worse and worse and there will be a massive default, when nothing can be done to prevent it.
Oh. Did I mention "Drill baby drill," defund ObamaCare, and all of the other activities of federal departments and agencies that got the country into her current recession and are keeping her there? I should have, but have already done so. In any event, those will be a good start.