There’s an old trick football play that, according to football lore, was used to win the game at the last minute. It involved the quarterback taking the snap from the center, falling back and pulling his throwing arm back as if to throw the ball way down field. Instead of releasing the ball, however, he holds it in his other hand, pumping the throwing arm as if it still holds the ball. He them hands off to a back, and is left there standing like the Statue if Liberty * with her torch, while the running back runs around behind him and takes the ball down the field for the touchdown and the game winning points. (He then does a little dance in the end zone, spikes the ball and points to the sky with his finger, thanking the Man who made it all happen). The play works because the defense sees a pass play forming and adjusts to guard the receivers, when in fact the running back is doing a fast sprint along the sideline to the goal before they realize they’ve been duped.
I was reminded of that play when I read this article about how to stick it to the Republicans who are holding our country hostage to their far right schemes for making the rich richer. It seems that they think they have Obama by the balls, because our debt limit has almost been reached, and (they think) without their consent to raise the limit, the government will have to default on its loan payments. Since Obama wouldn’t want to do that, the theory goes, he and his Democratic cohorts will accede to Republican demands to give in on more and more socially based cuts to the budget, while leaving the tax rates alone, if not reducing them. This of course, makes life for the middle class all that more onerous, while leaving the rich better off than they were before.
The underlying premise behind this is that the debt limit must be extended in order for the day-to-day business of the government to continue. But it’s a pure legalism. This is where a the trick play comes into effect. The Constitution says that the debts of the United States are not to be questioned. The exact wording (of the 14th Amendment) is:
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 debt limit, however, is statutorily based. It only came into existence around World War I, to enable the President to be free from having to constantly go back to Congress every time he wanted to incur debt to manage the war. However, in a conflict between the Constitution and a statute, the Constitution always trumps the statute. Hence, the President could validly, and constitutionally, say “The debt limit be damned! I have to pay all of our debts according to the 14th Amendment, and I will do so. You Congress critters go off to a corner and bicker among yourselves and don’t bother me.”
You have to love that. Obama may just have his own little Statue of Liberty play. I hope he executes it .
*That picture of John Lennon has nothing to do with this post. I just like John Lennon.