Is Mitch McConnell’s “deal” even constitutional?

In by Poor RichardLeave a Comment

Mitch McConnell has been slinking around the halls of Congress, trying to get Democrats and RINO Republicans to support his plan to let Obama unilaterally raise the debt ceiling.  Today, Senator Jim DeMint said that he would do everything within his power to stop McConnell’s plan.  Also today, President Obama said he was open to the idea as a last resort.  Harry Reid is supporting it too. Nancy Peolosi too.

Now, the last time I checked, when Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are on the same page about a piece of legislation, that’s reason enough to give pause.  This is bad policy to be sure, but I have a deeper question:  is Mitch McConnell’s plan even constitutional?

Here’s McConnell’s “Plan B” in a nutshell:

  • Give Obama the power to raise the debt limit unilaterally three times without the need for congressional consent. 
  • Obama would have to outline spending cuts for each raise in the debt ceiling, but those spending cuts would not have to be implemented, essentially allowing the President to raise the debt ceiling without cutting anything in return. 
  • The only way to prevent the incremental raises would be for Congress to pass a vote forbidding the increase, which would never make it past the Democrat controlled Senate

Essentially, McConnell’s plan takes the power that Republicans currently have to stop Obama from spending and incurring more debt and reverses it so that Republicans can’t do anything to stop Obama from spending and incurring more debt.

But here’s the constitutional issue: Article I, section 8 of the US Constitution gives Congress and Congress alone the power to issue new debt for the United States. It’s the first in a list of powers given to the Legislative branch:

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

  • To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;

Mitch McConnell’s plan subverts Congress’s constitutional power to borrow money, and gives it to the Executive Branch. The Founders wrote this provision specifically as a check on the Executive Branch’s power, and McConnell seems to be willing to just hand Obama more power without even considering the Constitutional implications of it. 

Mitch McConnell’s “contingency plan” seems to be a clear violation of Article I, Section 8, but thus far, I haven’t heard very many people discussing the constitutionality of it.