Feature

Could Congress be impeached for failing to raise the debt limit?

How the Tea Party could be burned by the Constitution

With the United States expected to hit its borrowing limit in seven days, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) will present a proposal to raise the debt ceiling for six weeks to avoid defaulting on America's debts.

There is no guarantee that House Republicans or President Obama will agree to it. And even if they do, we could end up in the same spot next month, and the month after that. That has some wondering whether or not we can just impeach an unbelievably unpopular Congress and start over with a clean slate.

The impeachable offense in this case would be violating the Fourteenth Amendment, which states, "The validity of the public debt of the United States...shall not be questioned."

It was written during another bitterly divided time in American politics, the post-Civil War era, and was meant to reassure foreign creditors that the United States was still a safe place to invest their money.

Some have argued that Obama could unilaterally raise the debt ceiling under the aegis of the amendment, but the White House has taken that option off the table.

However, there is another option. "Some opine, probably correctly, that the House will impeach Obama if he moves unilaterally on the debt ceiling after the House declines to act," writes Kristin Roberts at National Journal, but "Congress, too, is bound by that amendment."

Garrett Epps, writing at The Atlantic, argues that default would be "the rough equivalent of a sudden attack on the United States." That justifies Obama acting unilaterally, he writes:

No one would question that a commander-in-chief could respond to such an attack — even if Congress refused to act in the face of the threat. In that situation, the members of Congress, not the president, would be in violation of their oaths. [The Atlantic]

That prompts the question: Could Congress be impeached for violating the Constitution?

The answer is yes — but only by Congress itself. The Constitution allows for the "president, vice president and all civil officers" of the United States to be impeached, which includes members of Congress.

In this case, it's extremely unlikely that members of Congress would vote to impeach each other — especially since the process begins in the House Judiciary Committee, which includes several Tea Party Republicans like Reps. Steve King (Iowa) and Jason Chaffetz (Utah).

Even if the committee decided that there was enough evidence to go down that path, the same Republican-led House that has engaged Obama in a two-week game of chicken would have to vote to pursue a full-blown impeachment hearing.

Sorry, enraged Americans calling to #ImpeachCongress on Twitter, there is no way that is ever going to happen. Looking to Australia won't help either. In 1975, the country's governor general, Sir John Kerr, dismissed the entire parliament after a budget deadlock. That was only possible, however, because Australia technically recognizes the authority of the British monarchy.

Ultimately, there isn't really a way to fire Congress, except for the time-honored tradition of angrily voting the bums out of office.

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