Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa.
Michele Bachmann may be misinterpreting the 14th Amendment. (Photo Credit: CC BY-SA/Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Minnesota Republican Congresswoman and presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann claims to be watching the ongoing federal deficit battle closely, reports CNN. Yet by using the argument that President Obama would “effectively be a dictator” if he invokes the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling – not to mention calling for Obama’s impeachment in that scenario – Bachmann displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the Constitution, says New York Magazine.

Obama unlikely to invoke 14th Amendment

In an interview with Kiran Chetry on “American Morning,” Michele Bachmann made her position clear:

“Congress has the power to lay and collect taxes,” Bachmann said. “It’s Congress that does the spending. The President is prohibited to do that. If he had the power to do that, he would effectively be a dictator. There would be no reason for Congress to even come into Washington D.C. He would be making the spending decisions. He would be making the tax decisions. Clearly that’s unconstitutional.”

The president has already gone on record as saying that using a 14th Amendment argument to force a change to the debt ceiling would be a highly unlikely and legally tenuous position to take against such a statutory rule. South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the House, has urged Obama to issue an executive order based upon 14th Amendment if the sides cannot reach an agreement. Here’s President Clinton’s endorsement of the approach:

“I think the Constitution is clear, and I think this idea that the Congress gets to vote twice on whether to pay for [expenditures] it has appropriated is crazy,” Clinton said to The National Memo. “You can’t say, ‘We didn’t vote for some of that stuff, so we’re going to throw the whole country’s credit into arrears.’”

Legal surroundings

Nobody is paying attention to the fact that Section 4 of the 14th Amendment was written in very broad terms to ensure the payment of Union debts after the Civil War, while disavowing Confederate debts. New York Magazine doesn’t see how Michele Bachmann draws the conclusion from the 14th Amendment argument that Obama would be giving himself unilateral power to collect taxes.

But that doesn’t mean invoking Section 4 is the right course by default. University of Texas law professor Sanford Levinson told the New York Times that Section 4′s application is unclear, aside from specifying that the South would not pay Civil War debt. Yet Yale law professor Jack Balkin sees the possibility of broader interpretation.

“You’re not supposed to hold the validity of the public debt hostage to achieve political ends,” Balkin said. “Section 4 is a fail-safe that only comes into operation when everything else is exhausted.”

The man who would be dictator, according to Bachmann


CNN: http://bit.ly/rtEs7w

14th Amendement Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

The Hill: http://bit.ly/pkPyJD

New York Magazine: http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2011/07/michele_bachmann_has_no_unders.html

New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/25/us/politics/25legal.html

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