Thursday, July 07, 2011


You know that the White House is talking about massive budget cuts -- $4 trillion over the next few years, including "significant reductions in Medicare" and cuts in Social Security, in return for a pittance in tax increases. ("While Democrats would be asked to cut social-safety-net programs, Republicans would be asked to raise taxes, perhaps by letting tax breaks for the nation's wealthiest households expire on schedule at the end of next year." Perhaps!)

The one show of spine we're getting from the White House (even though it's almost certainly a bluff) is a hint that the 14th Amendment might be invoked to raise the debt ceiling without a vote in Congress. No, I don't believe it will happen, but at least one member of Congress says it would be an impeachable offense:

While some have asserted that the debt limit might be unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment, and therefore President Obama does not need congressional approval to raise it, Republicans have been quick to express skepticism over the idea. On Tuesday, a Republican congressman went a step further, saying that if Obama were to use that argument to bypass Congress on the issue, it would be an impeachable offense.

"This president is looking to usurp congressional oversight to find a way to get it done without us. My position is that is an impeachable act from my perspective," said Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) at a meeting sponsored by the Tea Party group LowCountry 9.12 Project on Tuesday, first reported by Lindsay Street on Summerville Patch.

His comments were met with enthusiastic applause....

David Frum, in a column in which he assails Obama's weak negotiating tactics, argues that impeachment would be inevitable if Obama did this, or at least would be a sword hanging over his head:

You don't need a crystal teacup to foresee how the Tea Party will react to a bond issue in disregard of the debt ceiling. They will accuse the president of trashing the U.S. Constitution, and somebody will commence impeachment proceedings.

This shift of topic is pure win-win for the Tea Party. Unperturbed by the risk of national bankruptcy, they can now hurl charges of tyranny and usurpation against the president through 2012, reserving impeachment as a back-up plan should the GOP candidate somehow lose.

But why would this be a problem? I wish the president would go for it -- I wish he'd invoke the 14th, I wish he'd do it knowing he was courting impeachment, and I wish the House would do it, and make his day.

I say this because because no matter how much the White House gives, and no matter how intransigent and reckless Republicans are, the public will inevitably assume that any impasse can be resolved if the two parties compromise equally. It doesn't matter if Democrats have done 99% of the compromising -- the public will say the impasse is both parties' fault equally. (The White House, of course, won't ever try to change that by enumerating its compromises, and the lack thereof on the GOP's part.)

But if there were impeachment, even low-information voters would understand which side was being implacably hostile. The White House would simply have to continue offering to work toward some sort of long-term budget deal -- this time without a gun to its head -- and an ongoing attempt to impeach would be seen as Republicans being the bad guys, the guys who aren't trying to do the people's business. It worked for Clinton. It would work for Obama.

I wish Obama had the guts to court impeachment. But he hasn't had the guts to resist demands for extreme cuts -- why would he dare to do this?

(Frum column via Talking Points Memo.)

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