Fox News Falsely Accuses Obama Of Trying To Change The Constitution

Steve DoocyFox News host Steve Doocy misrepresented President Obama's proposal to avoid the possibility of a federal government default on its financial obligations in order to claim that the president has proposed changing the Constitution.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner proposed that Congress should pass a law giving the president authority to avoid default by raising the ceiling on how much the federal government can borrow. Under the proposal, the president's authority would be subject to a vote of disapproval by Congress. Geithner's proposal was based on an idea originally put forward by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

Geithner's proposal is urgent because the federal government is expected to reach the debt ceiling early in 2013, meaning that if Congress does not act, the federal government will begin defaulting on some of its obligations for the first time in history.

On the December 7 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, Doocy interviewed Republican Sen. John Thune (SD) and opined that it was “good news for the Republicans” that there would soon be a fight between Obama and congressional Republicans over the federal debt ceiling because Republicans would “obviously have the upper hand on that.” Thune responded in part by saying that “what we're told is the president is even thinking about what he might be able to do to raise the debt ceiling without going through Congress, which would be a huge mistake and ought to be unconstitutional.”

Doocy replied: “He just wants to change the Constitution.” In fact, the Obama administration has not proposed any such change and has actually specifically rejected a novel interpretation of the Constitution that would allow the president to ignore the debt ceiling in order to avoid government default.

Rather than amend the Constitution or change the way it has been interpreted, Obama has proposed legislation that would amend the current statute that puts a limit on the federal government's borrowing.

The debt ceiling is merely a provision of law passed by Congress, which can be amended or repealed at any time through ordinary legislation without any change to the Constitution. 

The debt ceiling is merely a provision of law passed by Congress, which can be amended or repealed at any time through ordinary legislation without any change to the Constitution.

The Congressional Research Service  reports that since March 1962, Congress has amended the debt ceiling law 72 times. The last instance was in 2011 following a showdown in which congressional Republicans threatened to force a government default by not raising the debt ceiling, and it amended the debt ceiling law in almost precisely the same way that Obama now proposes.

As part of the deal, Congress incorporated a provision originally proposed by McConnell that allowed the president to raise the debt limit three times. Congress could reject the president's increase by voting to prevent it, although the president could veto such legislation and Congress in turn could override that veto. The provision was included in an ordinary bill, not a constitutional amendment, and senators, including Thune, overwhelmingly voted for the bill.

The Obama administration has now proposed that Congress make McConnell's proposal permanent with some modifications. But as with the original McConnell deal, the mechanism is ordinary legislation, not a change to the Constitution.