Friday, July 29, 2011

The 14th Amendment does not force the USA to pay its debt!

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on Constitutional law! What the heck are you doing thinking of getting law advice from a blog?!? :)

For anyone who doesn't live under a rock, you have heard this idea floated around that "Obama could cite 14th Amendment powers to tackle debt limit." I had just assumed that this was correct. I don't have the Constitution memorized, and I trusted who I thought would be experts on the matter. Well, then today I heard people saying that this idea is completely bogus. I tend to agree now that I have actually read it for myself. The text in question is as follows:
Section 4. 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. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

This just seems to be clarifying what debt belongs to the US and what does not. When you put this in its post-Civil-War context it makes sense. Consider this hypothetical scenario - During the Civil War, the South borrows money from, let's say, Spain. After the war, when the South has been reunited with the Union, Spain comes by asking the US for its money back. With the 14th Amendment, that money aided a "rebellion against the United States." Now the US can ask, "What money?" And Spain might be all like, "The money we loaned you." And the US will pronounce, "You didn't loan us any money." To which Spain will respond, "Yeah, we did. We loaned it to some of your southern States." Now the US can send them away with an, "OHHHHH!!! Well, see, that money went toward funding a rebellion, which has been squashed. That debt belongs to that rebellion, not us. Be on your way, now! Oh, and good luck getting your money back." (Which is really telling them that they are not going to be getting their money back.)

In summary, I suspect the idea of that section is for the US to determine which debt from the Civil War belongs to the US and which belonged to the South, which the US government probably figured it wasn't obligated to pay back.

Where I think people go wrong is that they stretch this obligation to recognize ownership of debt into an obligation to not only repay that debt, but to do so in a timely manner. To clarify, I agree that if you own debt, you are obligated to pay it back eventually. However, I don't see this as an enforcement on making a payment on its scheduled due date. Missing a payment is not the same as denying ownership. Therefore, missing said payment is not a violation of the Constitution; we are still admitting that the debt belongs to us. Much like if I were to miss a mortgage payment...I am not suggesting that I no longer own that debt or am no longer obligated to pay back that debt. I still intend to pay it back...just not at the present time.

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