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Betsy McCaughey
Liberty Belle
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Obama's Power Grab


President Obama went over the constitutional cliff this week, demanding more power than the U.S. Constitution allows any president to have. All Americans — regardless of party affiliation — should shudder at the president's attempted power grab and say no. Compromising on taxes and spending is fine, but not on the nation's bedrock principles.

To avert the so-called fiscal cliff on Jan. 1, 2013, Obama is insisting that House Republicans hand over to him Congress's authority to raise the debt ceiling. Obama is demanding a power no other president has ever had — to borrow without congressional prior approval. Under Obama's scheme, Congress would have to muster a veto-proof 2/3 majority in each house, an unlikely feat, to stop the borrowing. Obama's demand would put him in the driver's seat (instead of Congress) with no speed limit.

All 43 presidents before Barack Obama had to get Congress's approval. There's a reason. When government borrows, We the People have to pay it back. Allowing a president to borrow without Congress's consent would be no different from allowing a president to tax us without Congress's consent. The Constitution's framers saw that in Europe, monarchs borrowed and spent to aggrandize their own power, dooming the populace to repay the debt.

To prevent that, the framers allowed only Congress, the branch of government closest to the people, to borrow. (Article 1, Sect. 8). Obama's audacious proposal violates that provision. Yet he doubled down on it on Dec. 5, telling the Business Roundtable that negotiating with Congress "is not a game I will play." Sorry, Mr. President, but negotiating with Congress is precisely what the Constitution requires you to do.

Until 1917, presidents had to request Congress's permission for each debt issue. That year, Congress devised the debt ceiling to permit the president some flexibility to finance World War I. Since then, presidents have had to ask Congress for a debt-ceiling hike once or twice a year. Congress sometimes pared the president's request or demanded concessions in return for the hike. For example, in 1995, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich tried to extract major spending reforms from President Bill Clinton, and the two sides sparred for weeks.

That 1995 battle is what the framers intended in devising checks and balances.

Unfortunately, President Obama wants no part of checks and balances. In August 2011, he bamboozled Congress into giving him pre-approval for three debt hikes before the November 2012 election. He claimed the economy was too fragile to handle struggles with Congress over the size of the debt.

Nonsense. Washington's spending and borrowing mania are precisely what should be discussed in an election.

In 2011, Republicans foolishly gave the president an inch. Now he wants a mile — not three automatic hikes but unlimited hikes. Speaker of the House John Boehner should recognize the danger. It would signal to investors worldwide that Congress no longer has the will to fulfill its constitutional duty. On Aug. 5, 2011, two days after Republican negotiators agreed to the automatic hikes, Standard and Poor's rating agency removed the nation's triple-A rating on U.S. debt for the first time in history.

The rating agency's downgrade was accompanied by a scathing critique of the "effectiveness, stability and predictability" of American political institutions. Two days after the downgrade, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 800 points. Acceding to Obama's even more extreme demand now could provoke another downgrade and worse.

Eliminating the need for Congress to approve debt hikes would allow President Obama to keep the public in the dark as the debt piles up. The Obama administration has borrowed more money than the first 41 presidents (all but George W. Bush) combined. Forty cents of every dollar the federal government spends is borrowed

The president's chief negotiator, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, tried to argue that because the 14th amendment requires the nation to repay its debts, debt ceilings are unconstitutional. Wrong. Debt service consumes a fraction of federal revenue, so in a stalemate over the debt ceiling, the president would be able to service the nation's debt by slowing spending on other programs. The 14th Amendment would not justify any president exceeding the debt limit.

The Constitution says the power to borrow belongs to Congress, and Congress cannot delegate it. The president needs to reread the Constitution before his swearing-in next January and take his oath seriously.

Betsy McCaughey, Ph.D., is a constitutional scholar and a former Lt. Governor of New York State. To find out more about Betsy McCaughey and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



2 Comments | Post Comment
A new author on this site and a really good article. She's right, everyone should be worried about this. Yes, even Obamabots should be opposed to this because a democrat won't be president forever. There will be a republican in the White House again and when they get in, I certainly don't want them to have all the power Obama is grabbing up.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Sat Dec 8, 2012 10:31 AM
<McCaughey gets it more clearly than most. Her dissections of the healthcare issues are compelling.
Comment: #2
Posted by: robert erikson
Sat Dec 8, 2012 11:38 AM
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