The debt-ceiling crisis is growing into an impending constitutional crisis.
Imagine this scenario:
* House Republicans and the president fail to reach a budget agreement.
* House Republicans refuse to raise the debt ceiling before August 2, July 22, or whenever the real moment of crisis is.
* The federal government runs out of cash to pay its bills.
* Rather than default on obligations, the president announces his opinion that the debt limit is unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment, an argument increasingly heard this past week. He orders the Secretary of the Treasury to continue borrowing anyway.
* Now what?
Obviously there will be financial consequences, because lenders have to worry whether the post-July 22 debt is quite so guaranteed by the full faith and credit of the United States as the pre-July 22 debt.
More serious however are the legal implications.
While the Secretary of the Treasury and the president will rest their borrowing on Section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment, House Republicans will have a non-trivial argument that the Secretary of the Treasury and the president are emitting debt not only in violation of statute law, but in violation of Congress’ supreme authority over public finances.
With the markets bucking and rearing, and the real economy suddenly convulsed, does this not create a crisis atmosphere in which some House Republicans will begin to talk about the impeachment of an allegedly lawless and unconstitutional president?
If we want to avoid that outcome – and I have to believe we all do! – wouldn’t the best idea for now be: just lift the debt ceiling to give all parties more time to work out their differences?