It’s Time to Call the Tea Party’s Bluff

Like a neighborhood extortion gang – the kind that demands shopkeepers pay “protection” to prevent their stores from being robbed – Tea Party members of Congress are trying to force their will on the nation by threatening to block payment of the government’s outstanding bills.

They did it last year, and the crisis they created resulted in severe damage to the nation’s credit rating.  To get the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to approve the money needed to pay outstanding bills, President Obama agreed to terms that helped create the “fiscal cliff” we’ve been hearing so much about.

The president has decided he has had enough.

“I will not play that game,” he said recently. It’s about time.

But ending the Tea Party menace will not be simple.

The American Constitution decrees the country should be protected by “checks and balances” imposed on the government. The president’s power is tempered by Congress and both are held in check by the Supreme Court. The system is designed to rein in potential abuses of power, but it can be frustrating.

Combine the “checks and balances” with the powers reserved to the various states and the ability of a single senator to block legislation and you have a remarkably unwieldy arrangement.

At a time when America must compete with countries like China, where the government can turn on a dime, the system is definitely a handicap.

I realize this kind of talk is heresy, that I am treading on dangerous ground by questioning the infallibility of the Founding Fathers (whom I greatly admire and respect). But, thankfully, the Constitution also protects my right to point out its flaws.

I agree that America is the greatest country in the world. I became an American by choice, after all. And one reason I did so is my admiration for the Constitution (and the wonderful Declaration of Independence). I certainly would not want to live under a dictatorship like China’s.

But I think something should be done to address vulnerabilities like those being exploited by the Tea Party.

In the meantime, the president should take advantage of existing provisions in the Constitution to foil their subversive obstructionism. Indeed, it is his constitutional duty to do so.

Section 4 of the Constitution says the president must not put the validity of the public debt in question. If the debt ceiling is not raised, the validity of the public debt will obviously be in question.

And there are constitutional ways to fund the debt payments without the Tea Party’s permission.

Yale law professor Jack M. Balkin spelled out the president’s options in a CNN opinion piece during last year’s debt ceiling crisis. And the article is as relevant today as it was then.

He cites such ploys as minting trillion-dollar coins, or ordering the secretary of the Treasury to issue bonds.

Or the government could:

… Sell the Federal Reserve an option to purchase government property for $2 trillion. The Fed would then credit the proceeds to the government’s checking account. Once Congress lifts the debt ceiling, the president could buy back the option for a dollar, or the option could simply expire in 90 days. And there are probably other ways that the Fed could achieve a similar result, by analogy to its actions during the 2008 financial crisis, when it made huge loans and purchases to bail out the financial sector.

As Professor Balkin points out, there would be hell to pay if the president took any of these steps. Conservatives would go on a rampage and I shudder to think of what some of the right-wing crazies might do.

But, as Hippocrates is supposed to have said, desperate times require desperate measures. And these are desperate times.

The Tea Party’s expressed intention is to destroy the federal government by starving it of funds. And  that’s sabotage. They must be stopped, regardless of the consequences.

Click here to read Professor Balkin’s article.

Click here for more on the “fiscal cliff.”