Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, a noted liberal, threw the Constitution figuratively at GOP Senator Ted Cruz on Tuesday night, as tensions flared in the debt-ceiling debate.
As of Wednesday morning, Democrats and Republicans were still trying to make a deal before a Thursday deadline set by the Treasury Department as a milestone for when the federal government lacked the ability to borrow money.
The so-called “debt ceiling” might, in turn, cause the government to partially default on its public debt, since the Treasury Department won’t have enough cash to pay all its bills.
The nonpartisan Bipartisan Policy Council has set a date range between October 22 and November 1 for the default, if a debt-ceiling deal can’t be reached.
Alan Dershowitz appeared with Bill Richardson, the former New Mexico governor, with CNN host Piers Morgan to discuss what negotiation tactics could be used in Congress.
Instead, Dershowitz had harsh words for Cruz, his former law student at Harvard, whom he had praised this spring.
Cruz had led the fight for the GOP’s conservative wing to scale back or repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and to cut back government spending in general. He is also blamed or praised, by some, for helping facilitate the federal government shutdown as a protest against Obamacare and for his leadership role in seeking concessions from Democrats in any debt-ceiling deal.
After praising Cruz as a student, as he had done earlier this year, Dershowitz leveled some harsh claims against him.
“He has to qualify among the brightest of the students,” Dershowitz said, who added that Cruz is deeply principled.
But when it came to the shutdown and debt-ceiling fight, Dershowitz made his case.
“I think it raises very serious constitutional questions of the kind that Ted Cruz should be interested in. Could you imagine Hamilton and Madison sitting around and drafting the Constitution and the Federalist Papers. They’re talking about how the government has to pay its debts, how it has to secure the credit of the United States, how the House of Representatives to originate bills on revenue. Nobody in a million years would have contemplated the power of Congress to shut down the government, to create doubts about our creditworthiness,” he said.
“I think you can make a very strong argument that what Ted Cruz is doing is deeply unconstitutional. Whether a court would accept that or say it's a political question is another issue, but Cruz is a principled man. He ought to look at the Constitution and look into his heart and ask himself, ‘What would Alexander Hamilton have done,'” Dershowitz said.
The comments quickly found their way to the Internet and got an equally quick response from author and radio show host Mark Levin.
“Dershowitz is dead wrong. We don't have to imagine anything,” he told the Newsbusters website. “Congress and only Congress can authorize borrowing under Article I. The president must first pay interest on the debt under the 14th Amendment. The federal government collects 10 times as much revenue each month as it needs to cover those payments. As long as the president complies with the Constitution there can be no default. This is basic stuff. Even a Harvard law professor like Dershowitz should comprehend it."
Cruz has emerged as the most talked-about figure in the Washington budget battle, and he might be at the center of another constitutional test, as any final bill that goes through the Senate will need to survive a cloture vote, with at least 60 senators agreeing to overcome a filibuster to bring a bill up for a vote.
As of Wednesday morning, there were reports that a deal was struck with John Boehner, the House’s speaker, to have the proposed Senate compromise voted on first by the House, which would limit potential efforts by Cruz, Mike Lee, and other conservatives to extend debate time in the Senate.
Cruz hasn’t publicly indicated if he would try to block or slow down the bill in the Senate. But there are estimates that delays in the Senate could push the bill’s passage closer to this weekend, and several days past the Thursday deadline for borrowing.
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