Conservatives who say they believe in “peace through strength” might take a lesson from the Obama administration this week. Its officials walked back discussion of an end-run around Congress on the debt ceiling after Republicans stepped up their talk of impeaching Barack Obama.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner had raised the possibility the president might unilaterally raise the debt ceiling under the pretext of the 14th Amendment. On Tuesday, Rep. Tim Scott of South Carolina told the Tea Party group LowCountry 9.12, “that is an impeachable act…This jeopardizes the credibility of our nation, if one man can usurp the entire system set up by our Founding Fathers.”
The next day, Texas Republican Pete Olson told the left-wing website ThinkProgress.org that Scott is “not a lonely voice” on impeachment.
Even Obama supporters distanced themselves from such a blatant violation of the separation of powers. Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe, who was a judicial adviser to Obama’s 2008 campaign, wrote a New York Times op-ed entitled, We Cannot Pretend the Debt Ceiling is Unconstitutional.” He noted the dramatic implications of the proposed usurpation of powers: “In theory, Congress could pay debts not only by borrowing more money, but also by exercising its powers to impose taxes, to coin money or to sell federal property. If the president could usurp the congressional power to borrow, what would stop him from taking over all these other powers, as well?”
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This growing resistance may explain why the Obama administration is distancing itself from this dictatorial action wrapped in the Constitution.
On Friday, Geithner had his general counsel George W. Madison write a formal response: “Contrary to Professor Laurence Tribe’s assertion (Op-Ed, July 8), Secretary Geithner has never argued that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows the president to disregard the statutory debt limit. As Professor Tribe notes, the Constitution explicitly places the borrowing authority with Congress, not the president.”
In addition to being a baldfaced lie, the letter is also an act of political cowardice; it shows a White House in retreat (at least, for now).
It is not the first time Obama has backed down from pressure. He threatened to mandate “end of life counseling” as part of ObamaCare by federal regulation, only to withdraw the rule this January. The same month he reversed himself on that provision, he hinted he would issue a signing statement ignoring a bill forbidding him from bringing Guantanamo Bay detainees to the United States. His actual signing statement was milder than anticipated, and administration officials claimed he will comply with the statute.
These cases stack up favorably against instances where the Republican leadership lacked the courage to hold Obama accountable for his violations of the Constitution.
One possible take-away from this is: Impeachment works.