Top Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate have reportedly told the executive branch they won’t object if the president simply declares he has the power to impose even greater financial debts on Americans.
The announcement, leaked Jan. 10 by a Democratic aide to The Washington Post, would effectively give the White House the unprecedented power to borrow and spend as much money as it wishes — unless the Supreme Court intervenes.
If allowed to stand by the court, the decision by Senate Democrats would effectively gut the authority of Congress’ two bodies — the Senate and House of Representatives — to jointly govern borrowing by the executive branch.
“The four Democratic leaders — Senators Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin and Patty Murray — have privately reached agreement that continued GOP intransigence on the debt ceiling means the White House needs the space to pursue options for raising it that don’t involve Congress,” according to the report in the Post.
“The White House needs to know that Dems will support whatever it decides to do,” read the report.
GOP Senators have decried the self-imposed diminution of the Senate, which was once lauded as “world’s the greatest deliberative body.”
The Democrats’ offer “is not only the height of irresponsibility, but also a guarantee that our national debt crisis will only get worse,” said the Republicans’ Senate leader Mitch McConnell.
“Rather than offering any plan to break the spending habit that’s causing the problem, Democrats are looking at everything from the ridiculous (printing a trillion-dollar coin) to outright abdication of Congressional responsibility,” he said.
“Democrats in Washington are falling all over themselves in an effort to do anything they can to get around the law—and to avoid taking any responsibility for Washington’s out-of-control spending … which is why many of us view the upcoming debt limit debate as a perfect opportunity to face up to Washington’s spending,” he said.
Speaker of the House John Boehner also denounced the unprecedented move.
“Senate Democrats cannot ignore their responsibilities for political convenience — and the American people will not tolerate an increase in the debt limit without spending cuts and reforms,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel.
“Out-of-control Washington spending is costing jobs now, and condemning future generations of Americans to a lower standard of living. Washington Democrats must stop spending money we don’t have,” he said.
Congress’ sole authority over the nation’s debt is enshrined in Section 8 of Article 1 the Constitution, which says “Congress shall have the power to … borrow money on the credit of the United States.”
The Constitution does not give the executive branch any legal authority to borrow money from outsides sources.
The Congress’ power is implemented via the the Public Debts Acts of 1939 and 1941.
In recent weeks, the president’s aides have hinted they may seek to evade the Congress’ authority over the debt limit, because the GOP is demanding long-term spending reforms in exchange for another increase in the nation’s credit limit, now at $16.4 trillion.
Under President Barack Obama’s current spending plans, the nation’s debt is slated to reach $20 trillion by 2017.
That’s up by $10 trillion from 2009, and it will impose a debt worth $125,000 for every working-age American.
One option that White House officials have not disavowed would be the creation of a platinum coin with a nominal value of $1 trillion. In theory, the coin would be minted and provided to the Treasury to serve as collateral for continued borrowing.
The reported letter being sent by Democrats to Obama downplays the nature of the deference to the executive branch — a radical break from a Constitution that is designed to divide power between both branches of Congress, the executive branch and the judiciary.
“In the event that Republicans make good on their threat by failing to act, or by moving unilaterally to pass a debt limit extension as part of an unbalanced or unreasonable legislation, we believe you must be willing to take any lawful steps to ensure that America does not break its promise and trigger a global economic crisis — without congressional approval, if necessary,” reads the letter, according to the Post.
The Friday afternoon revelation continues the Democratic-run Senate practice of deferring to the Democratic-run executive branch, now run by Obama.
In 2012, for example, top Senate Democrats refused to oppose Obama’s declaration he had the right to appoint people when he decides the Senate is in recess.
The Democrats’ deference to Obama’s appointments undermines its critical power to Article 2 of the Constitution to give their “advice and consent” to senior appointments in the executive branch.
Similarly, since 2009 the Senate has failed to draft and debate a national budget, ensuring that each annual budget is developed in a closed-door conclave composed of top leaders from the House, the Senate and the executive branch.
This process minimizes the role played by Senate committee or by senators outside the leadership. But it does not clearly contravene the Constitution, where Article 1 reads that “all bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives.”