How the Debt Debate Might Lead to an Impeachment Frenzy

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At Tuesday’s White House press briefing, Obama spokesman Jay Carney was asked whether the President might circumvent the tortured efforts to strike a debt-ceiling deal with Republicans and invoke the U.S. Constitution’s 14th amendment, which contains a clause providing that “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law…shall not be questioned.” Carney wouldn’t go there: “I don’t think that I want to get into speculation about what might happen if something does or doesn’t happen,” he said. But Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has gone there, and David Frum imagines the chaotic way things might play out if Obama were to take that route:

Public talk of the “constitutional option” creates a third even more dangerous incentive: It opens the door to a future in which the president and the secretary of the Treasury issue bonds over the refusal of the House of Representatives. Yet Article I, Section 7 of the Constitution provides that “all bills for raising revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives.” Bonds raise revenue. 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.

Chait, meanwhile, argues that the 14th Amendment option could be John Boehner’s secret preference:

If you’re John Boehner, it’s going to be very hard to navigate this issue without infuriating either your voting base or your financial base. You want this issue to go away. In that sense, the 14th Amendment solution might be your best outcome. Indeed, Boehner’s ideal scenario may be if Obama came out for the 14th Amendment solution and it passes legal muster, allowing him to avoid any ideological compromise while assuring business leaders that Obama will prevent any of the consequences of his position.