Posts Tagged ‘ US constitution ’

If the Tea Party loves the Constitution so much, what are all these proposed amendments?

One of the myths surrounding the forming of the Tea Party in 2009 is that thousands or millions of Americans were horrified by how far the US government had strayed from the Constitution. These patriots wanted their government to “return” to a strict adherence to the words of the US Constitution. As explained by Freedom Works, a Tea Party group,

“The Constitution of the United States was promulgated and enacted by the most knowledgeable political philosophers and citizen-politicians in the history of the world… Starting with the Constitution, the law prevails, not the proclamation or arbitrary decision of a ruler, government bureaucrat, the enforcer or judge…

Without a doubt, this renewed interest in the Constitution has occurred because Americans know the federal government is out of control.  Outraged by corruption and special interest politics, Americans want smaller and limited government.”

Rather than being “outraged by corruption,”  it seems many Tea Partiers took a look at the Constitution and were outraged by what they saw there. For a group that seems to view the writers of the Constitution as demi-gods, Tea Partiers have a lot of proposals to change  what’s written in the Constitution.

For instance, I have heard lots of conservatives who would like to change the seventeenth amendment, so that we can no longer elect our Senators. They would rather Senators be elected by politicians in state legislatures.  It seems really strange that a movement which bills itself as the result of “the people” rising up against government wants to take power from the people and hand it to… the government.

Next, there are many Tea Partiers who want to change the fourteenth amendment, which famously gave citizenship to blacks after the Civil War freed them from slavery. It seems that many Tea Party members found out that this provision also gives citizenship to everyone born in America, even the children of illegal immigrants. As Dahlia Lithwick counters, “for many more Americans, the 14th Amendment represents what is best, not worst, about the constitution: its acknowledgement of human dignity and inclusivity, as well as the possibility for self-correction in the interest of forming a more perfect union.” That the Tea Party would seek to change an amendment so central to righting the wrongs inherent in our original Constitution, shows that something is sorely lacking in their world view.

Rick Perry, one of the Tea Party’s favored candidates for President has lain out seven  proposed changes to the Constitution. He  and many conservatives would like to see the sixteenth amendment repealed. The 16th allows the federal government to levy an income tax. Getting rid of this amendment would end one of the only forms of progressive taxation that we have in this country. All that would be left would be regressive taxes, which draw more revenue from the poor and middle class than from the rich. Apparently, all the Tea Party’s talk about lower taxes was only about lower taxes for the rich.

Add in the fact that the Tea Party is also pushing for a balanced budget amendment, and what you have is quite a confusing movement. On the one hand the Tea Party claims that the Constitution is practically a sacred text that deserves to be revered by politicians. On the other hand, Tea Party politicians and activists are claiming that there are many flaws in the Constitution and are actively pushing to amend  the Constitution in many ways. If this were any other movement, news coverage would say that this group was “hostile to” or “actively campaigning against” the Constitution.

I guess it just goes to show you that the Tea Party is no more “pro-Constitution” than progressives are. The Tea Party, like any other group, is pro-the parts of the Constitution that it agrees with, and anti-the parts of the Constitution that it doesn’t agree with.

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Why Obama won’t use the “Constitutional Option” for the Debt Ceiling

Talks over increasing the nation’s debt limit have gotten shaky over the past week. Faced with Republican demands for $2 trillion in spending cuts and absolutely no tax increases before Republicans will agree to raise the debt limit, many liberals, law professors, and even a top Democratic senator have begun popularizing the notion that the debt limit is unconstitutional. They argue that President Obama can just ignore this man-made crisis and continue to pay for the US’s fiscal obligations without a raise in the debt ceiling. Their rationale comes from section 4 of the fourteenth amendment, which reads:

 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. (emphasis mine)

It would seem that they have a good case. Our country has legally incurred a large amount of public debt and by not raising the debt ceiling, Congress would be saying that it never intends to repay its legally incurred debts. That seems to be the exact action this amendment was designed to prevent. Also, it is unlikely that anyone would have the standing to sue the treasury in court for ignoring the debt limit.

This seems to be the easy way for Obama to both get out of dealing with an increasingly implacable and uncompromising GOP and to save the economy from a near-certain economic implosion. So why did he appear to rule it out yesterday?

Any expert who seriously discusses the US  budget agrees: the debt ceiling must absolutely be raised. If not, the economy will go into a tailspin and innocent people will suffer as they lose their jobs, Social Security checks and medical coverage. The only problem is polls show that raising the debt ceiling is unpopular. Even when pollsters include the caveat that failing to raise the debt ceiling would be severely damaging to the economy, a plurality still opposes the increase.

Even if the debt limit is unconstitutional, Obama would pay a huge political price for unilaterally declaring it so. Sure, by doing so he would save the economy from a catastrophic collapse (assuming no agreement on debt is made by Aug 2), but he would pay a large political price for getting rid of the debt limit. His numbers on his handling of the debt are already very low and this would just add fuel to Republicans claims that he is a high-spending politician who is out of touch with the American public.

But what about the fact that getting rid of the debt limit would save the economy from a double-dip recession? Wouldn’t Obama be rewarded for protecting the economy from foolhardy and crazed Republicans who would do anything to prevent a tax increase on the richest Americans? In a word, no.

If there is anything Obama has learned in the past 2 and a half years, its that you can’t campaign on what might have been. Republicans can hammer Obama on the economy and his stimulus bill even though independent experts agree that things would have been much worse without Obama’s actions to prop up the economy. We might have had unemployment at 12% without the stimulus, but might-haves don’t run in elections. The banking system might have completely collapsed without TARP, but the fact that we could be in a full-blown depression right now doesn’t make people feel any better about the bailouts. People vote off their current situation and their current impressions. Might-haves or near misses will rarely impact the electorate’s votes.

So, for Obama to get any credit for saving the economy from ruin, or to pin any blame on the Republicans for leading the economy to the abyss, the country actually has to cross the threshold of a default and begin to feel the pain of a government working with only half of its limbs. Otherwise, Obama will be the bad guy. The Obama team seems to see these dynamics at work, and because they seem to be unwilling to let the country default in order to score political points, Obama has offered the Republicans a deal that’s 83% spending cuts and 17% tax hikes. Or in other words, its a plan that’s 83% what Republicans want and 17%  what Democrats would prefer.

Obama has bent over backwards to give Republicans a dream-like deal because he A) does not want the country to default on its debt and B) knows that he can gain nothing from declaring the debt limit unconstitutional. Obama seems to have decided that it would be better to give  the Republicans almost everything they want, rather than to take either of the other two options open to him.