October 24, 2020

Veto the redundant debt ceiling bill

          WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

Veto the redundant debt ceiling bill

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – At the behest of the Republican majority, the House of Representatives has passed a bill authorizing the U.S. Treasury to borrow without limit the funds necessary to pay for spending already passed by Congress and signed into law by the president. This is redundant and should be vetoed.

As we wrote on January 7, the operative clauses of the Constitution are:

Article I, Section 8, Clause 2: “[The Congress shall have the Power] to borrow Money . . .”

Article I, Section 8, Clause 5: “[The Congress shall have the Power] to coin Money . . .”

Article I, Section 9, Clause 7: “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law . . .”

What this means is that the House of Representatives has just acknowledged the supremacy of Article I, Section 9, Clause 7 as to the issue of borrowing and spending. Specifically, the House has agreed that appropriations laws, which must be obeyed by the Treasury, can only be obeyed if the Treasury can make up the shortfall between revenue (taxes, sales, etc.) and mandated appropriations by either printing or borrowing money.

Clause 7 does not allow the Treasury to choose which appropriations to pay. By law, it must pay them all. The clause does not say the Treasury can only pay for the appropriations Congress has passed if there is enough money to do so. This is why Clause 7 supersedes Clauses 2 and 5. Congress cannot take away with one hand what it has ordered with the other. It cannot say, “The Treasury must spend this money, but we will not allow it to print or borrow the money to do so.”

Now, for the first time since World War II, Congress is authorizing the Treasury to borrow whatever it needs to pay for the spending Congress has already mandated. No dollar amount has been attached to the bill, except that at the end of the term of the authorization on May 19, 2013, an automatic ceiling will be raised to include whatever amount the Treasury has borrowed.

Here is the catch. In passing this bill, the House has simply restated its order – its law – to the Treasury to spend the money Congress and the president already made mandatory by law. In other words, it is unnecessary. It is redundant.

The irrational argument to the contrary would contend that a law passed under Clause 7 cannot be implemented unless funds are approved under Clauses 2 and 5. The problem is that the appropriations laws do not contain such a requirement, the absence of which clearly indicates that authorizations under Clauses 2 and 5 are already included in the laws.

As we previously wrote, “If, on the other hand, Congress passed a bill under Clauses 2 and 5 forbidding the Treasury from borrowing and printing additional money at the same time it approved an appropriations bill that could not be funded any other way, a true constitutional crisis would ensue. In reality, of course, this is impossible because no president would sign such conflicting bills into law.”

It is important here to parse the word “appropriation.” According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, an appropriation is “a sum of money appropriated for a specific use.” Therefore, an appropriations bill does not just instruct the Department of Defense to build an aircraft carrier. It appropriates the money to build it, and it cannot appropriate what the Treasury does not have or cannot obtain through revenue, sales, printing, or borrowing. Therefore, an appropriation is not just an order to spend money, but also an authorization to obtain it.

For these reasons, the president should acknowledge the acquiescence of Congress in the logical interpretation of Clauses 2, 5, and 7 and of the meaning of the word “appropriation,” but he should not sign the debt ceiling bill lest that be a recognition of the right of Congress to misinterpret the Constitution.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND

 

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