There once was a time when Congressional Democrats screeched hysterically about the separation of powers. There once was a time when liberals warned that an 'imperial presidency' would destroy the republic. There once was a time when certain freshman Senators from Illinois voted against raising the debt ceiling as a pointed rebuke of our "reckless fiscal policies." Those times, ladies and gentlemen, have passed:
In a move that will significantly ratchet up the brinksmanship around the debt ceiling, the four members of the Senate Democratic leadership are privately telling the White House that they will give Obama full support if he opts for a unilateral solution to the debt ceiling crisis, a senior Senate Democratic leadership aide tells me. The four Democratic leaders — Senators Harry Reid, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin and Patty Murray — have privately reached agreement that continued GOP intransigence on the debt ceiling means the White House needs the space to pursue options for raising it that don’t involve Congress, and that the White House needs to know that Dems will support whatever it decides to do. In a letter to the White House signed by the four leaders that will soon be made public — and was sent over by a source — the Democrats say: “In the event that Republicans make good on their threat by failing to act, or by moving unilaterally to pass a debt limit extension as part of an unbalanced or unreasonable legislation, we believe you must be willing to take any lawful steps to ensure that America does not break its promise and trigger a global economic crisis — without Congressional approval, if necessary.”
"Without Congressional approval" is the key phrase, flinging the door wide open to an executive power grab -- for which Hill Democrats are willing to blithely serve as cheerleaders. As accommodating as this gesture may seem, it may actually cause the White House new headaches. The administration has already ruled out the "14th Amendment" option (wherein Obama simply declares the debt ceiling to be unconstitutional), a move that even liberal scholars like Harvard Law icon Laurence Tribe have dismissed as patently illegal:
The Constitution grants only Congress — not the president — the power “to borrow money on the credit of the United States.” Nothing in the 14th Amendment or in any other constitutional provision suggests that the president may usurp legislative power to prevent a violation of the Constitution. Moreover, it is well established that the president’s power drops to what Justice Robert H. Jackson called its “lowest ebb” when exercised against the express will of Congress. Worse, the argument that the president may do whatever is necessary to avoid default has no logical stopping point. 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?
The aide tells me, however, that top Senate Democrats see the 14th amendment option as far preferable politically to the coin. “Of the available options, the coin, on its face, is politically much worse than the others,” he said. “Whatever the legal arguments for and against it, the imagery will be difficult to combat. What better symbol of out-of-control government spending could you have than a trillion dollar coin?”
They're not nervous about the economic consequences of the platinum super coin gambit, mind you; they're worried about how it'd play politically, which aligns perfectly with their attitudes on governance over the last four years. To recap: Faced with the choice of either (a) legislatively raising the debt ceiling with matching dollar-for-dollar spending cuts, (b) flagrantly breaking the law, or (c) descending into banana republic-style madness, Congressional Democrats' preferences appear to be, in order: B, then C, then A. Keep this in mind as Republicans are routinely cast as the irrational, dangerous, "terrorist" hostage-takers throughout the forthcoming dispute.
UPDATE - Re-read this post, then soak in the following flashback clip -- in all its shameless, Reidian glory:
UPDATE II - A killer quote, mined by Allahpundit. Here's Harry Reid lying his ass off in 2009:
Reid stated, “I don’t believe in the executive power trumping everything… I believe in our Constitution, three separate but equal branches of government.” “If Obama steps over the bounds, I will tell him. … I do not work for Barack Obama. I work with him,” he said.
What a fraud.
UPDATE III - Mitch McConnell is disgusted:
The Democrat leadership hiding under their desks and hoping the President will find a way around the law on the nation’s maxed-out credit card is not only the height of irresponsibility, but also a guarantee that our national debt crisis will only get worse. With the President asking Congress to raise the debt ceiling, Democrats in Washington are falling all over themselves in an effort to do anything they can to get around the law—and to avoid taking any responsibility for Washington’s out-of-control spending. Rather than offering any plan to break the spending habit that’s causing the problem, Democrats are looking at everything from the ridiculous (printing a trillion-dollar coin) to outright abdication of Congressional responsibility. But avoiding this problem will only make it worse, which is why many of us view the upcoming debt limit debate as a perfect opportunity to face up to Washington’s spending.
Guy Benson is Townhall.com's Political Editor. Follow him on Twitter @guypbenson. He is co-authors with Mary Katharine Ham for their new book End of Discussion: How the Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and Makes America Less Free (and Fun).
Author Photo credit: Jensen Sutta Photography