President Obama was in rare form at the annual White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday, delivering zingers at House Republican leaders, Fox News, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his own Obamacare troubles. His best line of the evening, the pundits seem to agree, was this one aimed at House Speaker John Boehner:
I’m feeling sorry — believe it or not — for the speaker of the House as well. These days, the House Republicans actually give John Boehner a harder time than they give me, which means orange really is the new black.
But the most outrageous lines came from comedian Joel McHale, the star of NBC’s Community and host of E Network’s The Soup. The workover he gave Christie must have set some sort of record. He opened his act by promising to keep it “amusing and over quickly, just like Chris Christie’s presidential bid.” Later, he asked, “Governor, do you want bridge jokes or size jokes? I could go half and half — I know you like a combo platter.” Then he did an incredible parody of Christie’s Bridgegate response, saying his joke was inappropriate but while it was written by his staff he took full responsibility and would appoint an independent investigation headed by himself to find out whose fault it was. But why read my summary? Watch it below.
New York magazine’s Caroline Bankoff put together a pretty good roundup of the evening, including useful statistics on how many jokes each were aimed at CNN, Fox and MSNBC and who was the most ragged-on politician of the evening (Christie). And Fox has a full transcript of Obama’s remarks, which shows either that they’re masochists deep down or that they want to use it to get their base riled up, perhaps hoping to emulate the ADL’s success in taking down Nation of Islam leader Khalid Abdul Muhammad in 1993 by running his anti-Semitic ravings as a full-page ad.
Here are the videos of Obama’s and McHale’s routines, in full:
Wait a minute: I still don’t understand why the idea of a debt ceiling is constitutional.
The last I heard, the Fourteenth Amendment was still part of the Constitution. Here’s Section 4:
The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.
Call me crazy, but that seems pretty straightforward: One may not take steps to impede the United States’ payment of its debts. That should mean that any law permitting or enabling the prevention of America paying its debts is prima facie unconstitutional. The debt ceiling statute, by asking members of Congress to decide whether the government may continue to pay the money it owes, is by definition a violation of the Constitution. Its very language questions the public debt of the United States.
Pelosi, Geithner and others have raised this argument several times in the last few years, but Obama punted then and he did it again this time (surprise, surprise) to avoid confrontation with Congress and stick to his mythical middle ground. He’s afraid the House would impeach him and cause an even bigger crisis of confidence.
But it doesn’t have to be a confrontation between the branches. An outside goo-government group—or House Democrats—could and should go to the D.C. Circuit and challenge the constitutionality of the 1917 statute creating the debt ceiling. They should ask for a temporary injunction suspending enforcement of the law until the matter has been adjudicated.
A constitutional scholar might tell us that the public debt of the United States doesn’t refer to bills it has agreed to pay, but to repayment of bonds it floated—money it borrowed—to pay those bills. Even by that reading, any measure that raises questions about service of the debt—keeping up interest payments—should be unconstitutional. The fact that Republican caucus members suggest a way around it—paying the interest and stiffing everyone else—doesn’t negate the fact that the question has been raised, and that’s what’s unconstitutional.
House Speaker John Boehner is reported to have told fellow Republicans that he won’t allow the federal government to default. He said he will see to it that the debt ceiling is raised, even if it means passing a bill with the support of Democrats and a minority of Republicans. Here’s what Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel told the Washington Post:
“Speaker Boehner has always said that the United States will not default on its debt, but if we’re going to raise the debt limit, we need to deal with the drivers of our debt and deficits,” Steel said. “That’s why we need a bill with cuts and reforms to get our economy moving again.”
In other words, he’s going to make sure that the debt ceiling is raised, but only on condition that the measure to raise the ceiling includes some other fiscal and budgetary actions that the Republicans favor. Ezra Klein at the Washington Post Wonkblog unpacks what this means:
On the one hand, Boehner has always said he won’t allow the United States to default. On the other hand, he’s also always said that he won’t pass a clean debt-ceiling bill.
Imagine a bank robber who swears no hostages will be harmed under any circumstances but also says no one gets out alive if his demands aren’t met. That’s more or less Boehner’s position.
If you dig a little deeper, you come to a pretty shocking bottom line: