Volume 103

Unconstitutional Debt Ceilings

by Josh Hazan

This Note argues that when Congress appropriates funds in excess of its expected revenues, it implicitly authorizes the Treasury to borrow the amount necessary to meet that shortfall. By requiring separate authorization to increase the debt limit, Congress leaves open the possibility that politicians will cause the government to default on its obligations. Thus, a separate requirement is an unconstitutional subversion of the full faith and credit of the United States.

Part I surveys the history of the debt ceiling in the United States leading up to the modern debt crises. Part II analyzes the consequences of failing to meet our financial obligations and asserts that such an abdication of responsibility is unconstitutional given Congress’s sacrosanct duty to protect the nation’s credit. Part III explores the “nuclear option” proffered by Democrats to insure against the Republicans’ obstruction and argues that, although potentially legal, it is not viable and fails to address the underlying issue. Finally, this Note concludes by arguing that the debt ceiling should automatically rise to accommodate shortfalls in expenditures.

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