Tuesday, May 23, 2023
Public Employee Union Case Against Debt Ceiling Set for Hearing
U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns (D. Mass.) set a May 31 hearing date in the case brought by a public employee union challenging the constitutionality of the Debt Limit Statute.
The complaint in National Association of Government Employees v. Yellin alleges that
[t]he Debt Limit Statute is unconstitutional because it puts the President in a quandary to exercise discretion to continue borrowing to pay for the programs which Congress has heretofore duly authorized and for which Congress has appropriated funds or to stop borrowing and to determine which of these programs the President, and not the Congress, will suspend, curtail, or cancel altogether.
The plaintiffs argue that under the Anti-Deficiency Act, "the President does not have authority to suspend or cancel any laws or any programs that are, in fact, funded by Congress." Yet "the Debt Limit Statute has a retroactive effect and requires a reduction of operations of government approved by Congress, with no legislative direction as to which obligations to cancel."
In plain English, under the Anti-Deficiency Act and the Constitution the President must spend money validly appropriated by Congress, but the Debt Limit Statute (without raising the debt ceiling) prohibits the President from spending money appropriated by Congress. Given this reality, and given that the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits any person from questioning the validity of the public debt, "the Debt Limit Statute necessarily confers upon the Defendant President the unlawful discretion to cancel, suspend, or refuse to carry out spending approved by Congress, without the consent or approval of Congress as to how the President may do so, in order to pay the bondholders."
This approach doesn't hang its hat on the Fourteenth Amendment, at least not alone. Instead, it draws principally on the separation of powers--Congress's power to appropriate public funds, and the President's responsibility to spend those funds. The complaint say that if the Debt Limit Statute interferes with the President's duty to enforce congressional spending measures, then it's unconstitutional.