Despite Debt Deal, Obama Urged to Act Alone

Black America Web | 8/1/2011, 4:04 p.m.
A proposed deal reached by President Barack Obama and congressional leaders Sunday night to prevent...
Congressional CBC Chair Emanuel Cleaver (center) with Caucus members./Courtesy Photo

A proposed deal reached by President Barack Obama and congressional leaders Sunday night to prevent the federal government from defaulting on its loan obligations on Aug. 2 hasn't stopped some members of the Congressional Black Caucus from urging Obama to invoke the 14th Amendment and raise the nation's debt ceiling on his own without adhering to GOP demands for deep spending cuts.

Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced a deal that would raise the debt limit in exchange for more than $2 trillion in long-term spending cuts.

"Now, is this the deal I would have preferred? No," Obama said Sunday night. "But this compromise does make a serious down payment on the deficit reduction we need and gives each party a strong incentive to get a balanced plan done before the end of the year."

Reid, McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) will try to sell the agreement to rank-and-file lawmakers - who must vote to approve the deal - in meetings Monday.

Democratic leaders face a tough sell with black and progressive caucus members.

CBC Chair Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) called the deal "a sugar-coated Satan sandwich" that contains nothing for America's most vulnerable citizens.

"If you lift the bun, you see things antithetical to everything the great religions of the word teach, which is take care of the poor, take care of the aged," Cleaver said on MSNBC Sunday. "We don't know the details, and until we see the details, we're going to be extremely non-committed, but on the surface it looks like a Satan sandwich. When you talk about trillions of dollars in discretionary spending cuts without identifying what those cuts will be, that should cause some concern with the American public."

Cleaver said the black caucus and progressives aren't interested in "walking the nation across into the abyss" of default "but at the same time, we've got to protect our constituents."

One solution: Invoke the 14th Amendment. On Saturday, Cleaver and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, sent Obama a letter urging him to use a post Civil War-era provision in the 14th Amendment and increase the debt ceiling.

"We urge you to invoke section 4 of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution to raise the debt ceiling and enable the United States government to meet its financial obligations if Congress fails to act in time," the letter said. "We believe that you have both the authority and a moral obligation to do so in order to avoid an economic catastrophe of historic proportions."

Cleaver and Conyers (D-Mich.) were referring to a provision added to the Constitution after the Civil War to ensure that former Confederate states wouldn't try to skirt paying debts incurred during the war by the Union states.

"Section 4 of the 14th Amendment reads: 'The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, incurred for payments of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection of rebellion, shall not be questioned," the Cleaver-Conyers letter said.

The two congressmen said that as the clock ticks towards Tuesday - the deadline when the government goes into default if Congress fails to increase the debt limit - Obama should not hesitate to pull the trigger and raise the ceiling by himself.

Such a move would anger conservative Republicans and Tea Party members. Cries of "imperial president" would probably come from Obama foes, adding that tag to "communist" and "socialist" to the falsehoods the nation's first black president has had slapped on him by many on the political right.