The Constitution and the debt ceiling

Recently a new Constitutional “myth” seems to be gaining traction.  It comes from those on the left who, although declaring the Constitution “over 100 years old, and confusing”, have apparently decided that the Constitution isn’t so bad after all, if it can serve their purposes.

First, the myth.

Congress doesn’t need to raise the debt ceiling because the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution gives the President the power to do so.  When you hear this, tell the speaker that he or she really should read the Constitution before spreading the myth any further.

Now, the reality.

Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress the power to borrow money.  It does so by using the “confusing” language that states,

The Congress shall have the power…to borrow money…

Section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that,

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, …shall not be questioned. [emphasis supplied]

In order to be a debt of the United States”authorized by law”, the borrowing must first be approved by Congress.

End of myth.

But, while on the subject of the debt ceiling, let me leave you with two questions. 

The President, and most Democrats in Congress proclaim to be serious about reducing this country’s debt.  If they are, why do we need to increase the debt ceiling? 

Doesn’t an increase in the debt ceiling simply allow us to borrow more money, and thus increase our debt?

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The Sound Off Sister was an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and special trial attorney for the Department of Justice, Criminal Division; a partner in the Florida law firm of Shutts & Bowen, and an adjunct professor at the University of Miami, School of Law. The Sound Off Sister offers frequent commentary concerning legislation making its way through Congress, including the health reform legislation passed in early 2010.


  1. TomL on July 11, 2011 at 7:25 pm

  2. David R on July 11, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    Boehner and Obama are acting like leaders while the idealogues on both sides are still dug in. Raising the debt cieling, tax increases, plugging loopholes and spending cuts are coming.??Bet on it.? Which loop holes get plugged will be decided by the lobbyists and campaign contributors. Both parties look to be losers, but if history repeats itself the Republicans will take the biggest hit.

  3. sammy22 on July 11, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    Seeing how the investors around the world are watching this “struggle” about the “myth”, I want the debt ceiling raised. Yes, we will likely need to borrow more money: is that a surprise??

  4. gillie28 on July 12, 2011 at 2:53 am

    SOS – what a clear, concise, simply-expressed?documentation of how the Constitution REQUIRES US?debt?to be approved by Congress.? Of course, way too “confusing” for anyone in Washington who disagrees!!

    Sammy, I don’t think the question is whether or not the debt ceiling has to be raised, just about what guarantees do we have the?rabid spending?will begin to be reduced, and that we’re not going to be taxed into bag ladies and tramps?(the homeless kind).? Oh dear, what would Jesus do?? Um, throw the bums out of the senatorial and congressional temples!

  5. gillie28 on July 12, 2011 at 3:30 am

    SOS, you wrote: ?”Doesn?t an increase in the debt ceiling simply allow us to borrow more money, and thus increase our debt?”

    It’s always been a mystery to me why debt is EVER considered a good thing.? Individuals, companies,??states, countries….PAY AS YOU GO, problems over!!!!

  6. winnie888 on July 12, 2011 at 7:20 am

    SOS, I’m still confused.? Ye olde English is way over my head.
    But in all seriousness:? Wouldn’t it be lovely if the US’s credit rating (as it is in the private sector) prevented Congress from borrowing further until it cleaned up its outrageous spending habits & upped its credit score to an acceptable number?
    They really should be using

  7. Lynn on July 12, 2011 at 8:09 am

    SOS, You are one of the few lawyers I know who makes it all simple. Your last two questions are perfect.? Cut the budget ergo we do not need to increase the debt ceiling. Simple math.

  8. crystal4 on July 12, 2011 at 8:49 am

    These same GOP “leaders” voted 19 times to raise the debt ceiling under Bush.? Freakin hypocrites.

  9. Jeff S on July 12, 2011 at 8:56 am

    If the facts don’t support your arguement go with the myth!!

  10. TomL on July 12, 2011 at 9:22 am

    Crystal on the other hand the dems?voted not to raise the debt limit, Freakin hypocrites

  11. Tim-in-Alabama on July 12, 2011 at 10:08 am

    Bumpy Barack O’Bama operates extra-constitutionally anyway so doesn’t need the Constitution or the alternate Constitution to do what he wants to do. Eatcher peas, take off your Band-Aids and sit in the back of the non-sequitur bus – it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

  12. ricbee on July 12, 2011 at 10:19 am

    ?God has sent us Pres. Obama & Gov.Malloy to show us that our elected officials have now become our rulers & will ignore our wishes & promises they made to get elected.

  13. NH-Jim on July 12, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    Too bad our great leaders and congress critters didn’t borrow from the mob……
    All of their kneecaps would be broken!
    By the way, not that anyone can condone it, nor that I have ever, but the debt limit was raised 7 times under Bush, not 19, more as an afterthought.? Now, it is a CRISIS.? Let’s stop the quibbling over your guy vs my guy and their running up the debt.? Remember!? This is our money, from our wallets, from our hard-earned income.? It should be our say, right?? Let’s work together, lefties and righties, and tell them no more putting us further in debt.? We cannot sustain it, period.

  14. PatRiot on July 12, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    -?? Politicians want everything but responsibility – especially for their own actions.
    -?? The Congress shall have the power?to borrow money?”? This falls under the catagory of? ” Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”
    -? I am willing to bet that NOT ONE politician runs their own household this way.?
    -? I think the market would rally around any country that would seriously tackle their debt problems.??No increase to the debt limit, no tax increses and serious?spending cuts would send a?HUGE positive message that this global financial mess is fixable.?? Might even?improve the US’s credibility.?

  15. RoBrDona on July 12, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    “O-Hoover and the Bizzarro Constitution”?and “Spend Your Way to a New You”? at your local comic book retailer soon.

  16. Tim-in-Alabama on July 12, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    One of the Democrats’ most revered documents, written in FDR’s own hand on now fading parchment protected by Second Amendment resistant glass, simply states, “Constitution – Schmonstition!”

  17. Tim-in-Alabama on July 12, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    It actually reads, “Constitution-Schmuonstitution.” Oh, well. Spelling, schmelling.

  18. Tim-in-Alabama on July 12, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Well, I messed up again. I’m not fixing it. I’m going Galt on spellin’.

  19. David R on July 12, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    What we’ve got is a bunch of idealogues trying to sell us the?simple solution, when there isn’t any.?RoBrDona mentioned Hoover: a?good, well intentioned?man whose policies led the way to 20 straight years of Democrat control of the White House.? Getting real means listening to people like former Pete Domenici staffer Steve Bell:
    “I’m a conservative. I’m a fiscal and defense conservative. I am astonished that federal politicians who must know what this will mean to their districts are still saying that if they don’t get exactly what they want, it’s OK what happens to their districts. They are not being conservative. They are almost being theological, led by Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey and Congressman Jim Jordan [R-OH], head of the Republican Study Committee. Both of them understand what a failure to increase the debt ceiling would mean. Both of them say short-term pain is OK for long-term gain. That’s a false choice. There is no long-term gain. Either we’ll have a short-term gain, or medium-term catastrophe.” ?

  20. Tim-in-Alabama on July 12, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    “They are almost being theological …” Once again religion enters into the debate.

  21. crystal4 on July 13, 2011 at 6:58 am

    End the wars, go back to Clinton era tax rates…problem solved.

  22. gillie28 on July 13, 2011 at 9:08 am

    Agreed crystal.? Iraq and Afghanistan have had their opportunity to make of themselves decent countries.? It’s up to them to decide their destiny.? With the proviso that the US bomb them back to the Stone Age if they let the Taliban and/or Al Qaida take over…..yeah, yeah, already in the Stone Age, but point made.? As for Libya….what the hockey sticks are we doing there in the first place???? Please note, France having dragged us in is now gracefully withdrawing and leaving guess who with the mess (shades of Vietnam?).?


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