Is the Debt Ceiling constitutional?

Here is a link to the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

This section seems to me to make the whole debt ceiling circus an annual waste of time.

Section 4.

The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any state shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.


Yes, the debt ceiling is constitutional.

Failing to authorize the U.S. Treasury to issue more debt (or indeed any debt) is not “questioning the validity of the public debt.” Trivially, one can fail to pay interest on a debt - or even voluntarily refuse to pay interest a debt - even while acknowledging the debt is valid and legal.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, failing to allow the issuance of more debt doesn’t necessarily require the government to fail to pay its debts. The current deficit is “only” about 20% of the budget (more or less). So over any given time period (roughly), the government takes in revenues equal to about 80% of expenditures. Debt service is only about 8-9% of expenditures. So if the Treasury lacks authority to issue more debt, and if the Treasury has a constitutional obligation to service existing debt (compared to “only” a statutory obligation to do anything else), it is very probable that they could do so, if push came to shove.


I read somewhere along the line, that the concept of the debt ceiling was a concession to get Congress to approve massive deficit spending, as it gave Congress a control lever on how far the debt could grow.

I showed, several days ago, how the annual deficit could be eliminated by cancelling all “wellfare”, all “foreign aid”, and all money the Federal government pays out in subsidies to the states, all the “socialistical” things one faction has been crying about for years. (I remember my grandfather complaining about “foreign aid” fifty years ago)

Of course, the moment the budget is balanced, we will hear demands that the “JCs” be given another $1T tax cut…that was what happened the last time the Federal budget became sustainable.

Of course, another huge tax cut for the “JCs” would put us back where we are now, and more demands to “cut spending”. That is when “plan Steve” would come in, to means test SS and Medicare, meaning that anyone who was able bodied, regardless of age, would be denied benefits, because they had the means to work and earn a living.



Sure - but those things are immensely popular, and aren’t going to be cut.

As is sometimes noted, the federal government is essentially an insurance company with an army. The federal budget is (approximately) $5.8 trillion. Of that, about $4.4 trillion is insurance/pension programs and defense:

Social Security - $1,100B
Defense - $860B
Medicare - $690B
Medicaid - $520B
Veterans and employee pension/retirement - $420B
Debt Service - $400B
Unemployment insurance - $392B

If you want to eliminate the national deficit just by cutting, you can almost do it without cutting those programs - if you eliminate basically the entire federal government other than those programs. Which just is not a feasible proposal. Of course, one could eliminate the deficit by raising revenues instead.

Anyhow, you can see that “debt service” is a manageable proportion of the federal budget, and in theory could be satisfied regardless of whether the debt ceiling is raised or not. Which makes the 14th Amendment argument pretty weak.

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I don’t know about the area you live in, but where I live, “welfare” has been demagogued as racial minorities laying around, living off the productive segment of the population. The narrative conveniently ignores the facts that most people on assistance work, and most of them are white.

A few years ago, Michigan attempted to impose a work requirement to receive Medicaid. The sponsors of the legislation openly said, it wasn’t about cutting Medicaid spending, but, rather, to force people into the arms of the “JCs” that were having trouble filling lousy jobs at lousy pay.

The narrative that would be used to justify defunding welfare would be to “get the layabouts off their a$$e$ and make them work, like the rest of us.” The truth would be forcing working poor to take on more jobs, work more hours, to the delight of “JCs” that now have more trouble than ever before, filling lousy jobs at lousy pay.

“Thought leaders” will use data in reports like this, and have their followers howling “OUTRAGE”

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The heart of foreign aide, SS, the military spending and even interest payments on the debt which finance parts of the private sector ironically…the issue is optimizing the US economy. The arguments to cut those things ignore how those things help make our economy very rich. We can get richer. Why not? Just because some old guys have gripes about things they have really never thought over and know even less about?

Back at the clubhouse where I live the older gentlemen never stop beeaching about young people who do not work hard. Amazing since they are in retirement and have a harder time each year getting off their barstools.

I think we both understand the present “crisis” is about demagoguery, brinkmanship, and getting the most for your cronies, at the expense of others.


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I am not in the least disagreeing with you. Those guys all get paid even if their medicine kills the patient.

It is important to keep in mind those guys actually do believe in their action. This is not just corruption but a right to power.

Brings up slavery front and center. Must have master class.

To me focusing on the sheer power of the country is more useful then focusing on anything else such as a cynical corruption. Americans do not want sheer power no matter who it is. There has to be a rational for sheer power.

That is why discussing the industrial plan explains our power. A better economy is opportunity for everyone.

If someone is going to say a regressive tax is good, then I want to know how it is good for the economy? Obviously it is not and that can not be answered affirmatively. In fact it is bad for everyone. No sheer power is given to bad ideas for the US economy.

In the 1980s when supply side econ was necessary for about a decade that truth telling gave supply side econ power.

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