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Can Congresspeople Legally Question the Validity Of the Public Debt?

letsgetitdone's picture

An awful lot of Congresscritters lately have been threatening to refuse the raise the debt limit unless legislative programs whose funding has been previously authorized and appropriated is re-negotiated. Of course, new tea party representatives have been threatening this daily. But, the latest to join the tea-party parade is Senator Lindsey Graham who says:

GREGORY: Let me break a few of those things down because it’s important, the level of detail. Let me start with this. You talk about the budget. You talk about spending. How will you vote on the debt ceiling? Will you vote to raise it which is a vote that will come up in relatively short order?

GRAHAM: Well to not raise the debt ceiling could be a default of the United States on bond and treasury obligations. That would be very bad for the position of the United States in the world at large but this is an opportunity to make sure that government is changing its spending ways.

I will not vote for the debt ceiling increase until I see a plan in place that will deal with our long term debt obligations starting with Social Security, a real bipartisan effort to make sure that Social Security stays solvent, adjusting the age, looking at means tests for benefits. On the spending side I’m not going to vote for a debt ceiling increase unless we go back to 2008 spending levels, cutting discretionary spending…

I'd like to remind all the Congresscritters who think it's OK to threaten to take an action that may cause the US to default of the juxtaposition of two aspects of US law, and thanks to beowulf for pointing out the juxtaposition. First, there is Sect. 4 of the 14th Amendment. It reads in part:

”. . . .the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law… shall not be questioned”

I think that threatening to create conditions that may cause the US to default certainly questions the validity of that debt.

And second, there is this Criminal Mischief statute

18 US 1361. Government property or contracts

"Whoever willfully injures or commits any depredation against any property of the United States, or of any department or agency thereof, or any property which has been or is being manufactured or constructed for the United States, or any department or agency thereof, or attempts to commit any of the foregoing offenses, shall be punished as follows:

If the damage or attempted damage to such property exceeds the sum of $1,000, by a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than ten years, or both; if the damage or attempted damage to such property does not exceed the sum of $1,000, by a fine under this title or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or both."

It seems to me that the tea partiers and Senator Graham ought to pay a little more attention to the legalities that surround them everyday. They've all taken an oath to uphold the Constitution and the Laws of the United States. Well, the above suggests that a vote to constrain the Executive Branch from fulfilling the obligations of the United States Government when funds have already been appropriated to do that is both illegal and a violation of their oaths of office. So, no more loose talk Mr. Graham!

(Cross-posted at All Life Is Problem Solving and Fiscal Sustainability).

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