Failing To Raise Debt Ceiling Could Violate Constitution

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WASHINGTON, DC (WHNT) - In the Tennessee Valley, the federal government pays a lot of the bills.  Well, for now.

With House Republicans raising the issue of the debt ceiling, the government might not be able to pay many bills at all.  Because the debt ceiling debate isn't about next year's budget.

WHNT News 19 Political Analyst Dr. Jess Brown explains, "This is about whether the Congress of the United States is going to authorize a president to borrow money to pay the bills for money they've already authorized to be spent."

So Congress passed a budget last year.  They told employees, agencies, and contractors, 'You can count on this money from us.'  

But if Congress won't raise the debt limit, they won't be able to fork over the promised cash.

It's a new trick for an old lawmaking body.

Dr. Brown points out, "They did it on autopilot year after year after year after year.  for years."

But here's the twist.

"The executive branch may not need this periodic approval of Congress," says Dr. Brown.

It all comes back to the Constitution of the United States, specifically Amendment XIV.

Dr. Brown summarizes, "The validity of the public debt of the United States, the validity of the public debt of your national government shall not be questioned."

So for Dr. Brown this raises an important question about Congress and its practices, "If you pass legislation and you know at the time you do it we're saying spend more than there's going to be revenue, aren't you in effect authorizing public indebtedness?"

And if Congress approves taking out loans with the budget but then stalls that process by not raising the debt ceiling, Dr. Brown says it may invalidate the loans they approved, in turn, violating the Constitution.

The debt ceiling debate will pervade, but its legality remains questionable.