Earlier this week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) proposed an odd way to end the debt ceiling crisis: Republicans will stop holding the economy hostage and effectively allow the debt ceiling to be raised without requiring any budget cuts, if Obama gives them 12 opportunities to bash his fiscal policies.
McConnell’s plan to accept political theater as an alternative to drowning the federal government in a bathtub does not please the far right, so they’ve once again fabricated an utterly nonsensical argument why something they don’t like is unconstitutional. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) laid out this argument last night on Fox News:
We will not hand over more power, which I think is unconstitutional, to President Obama to further manipulate our economy. You know, Article I, Section 8 of our Constitution spells out that Congress has the power of the purse strings, so this plan of McConnell’s I think makes no sense because it does cede power to our president and takes away that authority that is inherent in Congress to control the economic decisions that have to be made when it comes to debt.
Here we go again. When President Obama signed a health care law they don’t like, the far right immediately invented an utterly meritless constitutional argument against it. They don’t just support the House GOP’s plan to phase out Medicare, they embrace an absurd claim that Medicare violates the Constitution. If a waiter brings these people a steak that is slightly overcooked, they demand that he take it back because it’s unconstitutional.
So it’s pretty obvious that Palin’s kneejerk attack on the McConnell plan is wholly without merit. First of all, the debt ceiling fight has absolutely nothing to do with whether Congress retains the “power of the purse strings.” Congress exercises this power by passing appropriation bills that authorize the executive branch to spend money, and President Obama is still forbidden from spending money in excess of a congressional appropriation regardless of whether or not we have a debt ceiling.
Similarly, there is absolutely nothing radical about Congress delegating authority to the executive branch. The power to delegate authority is one of Congress’ most well established powers, and it is the reason why federal agencies are allowed to both write regulations and administer funds. Without this power, a functioning federal government cannot exist.
There is no modern Supreme Court case striking down this kind of delegation of power from the legislature to the executive, and the Supreme Court permits such delegations so long as “Congress clearly delineates the general policy, the public agency which is to apply it, and the boundaries of this delegated authority.” McConnell’s plan easily meets this test, it designates the president as the sole authority possessing the delegated authority. It allows him to raise the debt ceiling only in designated intervals and only if he proposes very specific spending cuts, and it places very strict limits on this authority. Because the president is forbidden to spend money in excess of a congressional appropriation, Obama’s delegated power to raise the debt ceiling would be limited by the amount of congressional appropriations.
But, of course, Palin is no more concerned with what the Constitution actually says than are her many conservative allies who claim that child labor laws, Pell Grants, federal student loans, the ban on whites-only lunch counters, and even Medicare and Social Security violate the Constitution. Why bother to actually read the Constitution when you can just pretend that it says whatever you want?