In a Jan. 11 letter, Senate Democratic leaders implored President Barack Obama to invoke the provisions of the 14th Amendment to unilaterally raise the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling in the event Congress reaches an impasse in its negotiations, The Hill reported.
The 14th Amendment option is an idea that’s been gathering steam for several weeks. On Dec. 6, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., appeared on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” and strongly urged the president to drop his resistance to the idea.
“In the event that Republicans make good on their threat by failing to act, or by moving unilaterally to pass a debt limit extension only as part of unbalanced or unreasonable legislation,” the letter said, “we believe you must be willing to take any lawful steps to ensure that America does not break its promises and trigger a global economic crisis — without Congressional approval, if necessary,”
The letter was signed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, Senate Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Charles Schumer of New York and Democratic Conference Secretary Patty Murray of Washington.
“It is hard to imagine that the Speaker and Leader McConnell would really follow through on their threat to let our nation default on its debts. They are responsible leaders who know better,” the letter said, referring to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
“Sadly, some of their Republican colleagues do not,” the letter said of tea party caucus members who have resolved to hold the line on federal spending. “Therefore, we believe that you must make clear that you will never allow our nation’s economy and reputation to be held hostage.”
The constitutional provision the letter references is Amendment 14,
Section 4, which provides, “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.”
Section 4 only states that “the validity of the public debt … shall not be questioned.” It’s silent on the subject of raising revenue, paying debt or borrowing funds.
Section 5 of the same amendment provides that “Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.”
Lest there be any question, Article I, Section 8 provides, “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and; … To borrow money on the credit of the United States.”
Notwithstanding anything contained in the 14th Amendment, Congress, not the president, holds the U.S. purse strings.
Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steel weighed in on Boehner’s behalf in an interview with The Hill.
“Senate Democrats cannot ignore their responsibilities for political convenience — and the American people will not tolerate an increase in the debt limit without spending cuts and reforms,” Steel told The Hill. “Out-of-control Washington spending is costing jobs now, and condemning future generations of Americans to a lower standard of living. Washington Democrats must stop spending money we don’t have.”
Congress cannot abrogate its constitutional responsibility to manage the public debt simply because it’s too difficult. And for the president to simply ignore the current spending limits would initiate a constitutional crisis far overshadowing our current debt crisis.
Read more at The Hill.