President Barack Obama, speaking yesterday at FEMA, faces an increasingly likely prospect of being impeached by GOP agitators for ANY response to the government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis. (Image Source: Reuters)
Today, on the eighth day of the federal government shutdown, President Obama spoke briefly with the Speaker of the House John Boehner over the government shutdown and made a public statement on the matter, as the Republican Party moved to place the debt ceiling limit, the limit on how much borrowing the government can do, onto the table for ending the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Over the course of today, despite increasingly dire warnings from their supposed allies on Wall Street, a greater number of GOP lawmakers seem content with the idea of letting the government hit its debt ceiling limit and go into default, denying the impact to the national and world economy. Perhaps a greater strategy is in the works by denying that the likely default is a problem: By denying the greater impact, the GOP would be able to put President Obama into a hole where they can impeach him, no matter what he does.
This strategy is already playing out in certain ways since the beginning: The GOP has focused on blaming Senate Democrats and the White House for allowing the shutdown to occur by failing to pass a budget that includes defunding the Affordable Care Act, even though the GOP knew that such a budget would never pass. The right wing media, backing elements of the Republican Party who are rebelling against the established leadership, turn every minor situation, from denying veterans access to national parks to military shop closures, into major news stories that present opportunities to bash the Obama administration. What was previously considered sacred, the debt ceiling limit (an arbitrary construct developed during World War I and expanded during the New Deal era), is now a bargaining chip.
The GOP rebels' intent in this situation is not so much a deal so much as it is to force President Obama to bow to their whims, despite having very limited power. If they cannot, the rebels will attempt to remove him from office, as promised to their constituents. President Obama has repeatedly refused to even consider dealing with them precisely because of this intent, for this would undermine the purpose of the Presidency, and would weaken any future elected President, regardless of their party or ideology.
The future of this strategy goes a little like this: October 17 comes with no compromise or no decision. President Obama has to move, lest he risk seeing the fragile world economy that is still struggling to recover from 2008 destroyed. Obama has two choices: Let the country go into default, or take unilateral action to raise the debt ceiling (probably through an Executive Order).
In both of these cases, the GOP has the upper hand in impeaching the President, on the grounds that Congress alone determines what is or is not a "high crime or misdemeanor," an impeachable offense. In the former situation of letting the country default, the GOP could argue that by failing to sign the budget bill Congress had given him, President Obama is alone responsible for the debt ceiling crisis, and thus has failed in his duty as President. In the latter case of raising the debt ceiling himself, because Congress is given the authority to determine the debt ceiling and not the President, the GOP can argue that the President overstepped his executive authority and encroached on the separation of powers that the Constitution established. Essentially, it is a matter of doing too much, or too little, but in both cases, the President would be charged with violating the Constitution.
This situation would grant the GOP the opportunity to impeach President Obama, which requires only a majority. For those GOP rebels, this has been part of their goal since being elected in 2010. They could claim that Obama has been beaten by their efforts, thus solidifying their careers in Congress, due to heavily gerrymandered districts made up entirely of their supporters. The problem is that an impeachment conviction requires two-thirds majority vote from the Senate. Based on the current make-up of the Senate, and even the likely make-up of the Senate after the 2014 elections before the shutdown started, there would not be enough votes in the Senate for a conviction of any kind to happen. That notion partly removes the leverage the GOP rebels have over their constituents.
In any event, whatever happens, the current situation suggests that the final moves will go down to the wire. The debt ceiling is expected to be reached around October 17. Impeachment may not seem possible at this point, but it may be a likely strategy for the GOP.