If the fight in Congress to raise the government debt limit is a dire threat, why doesn’t President Joe Biden just raise the borrowing ceiling himself? It’s theoretically possible, but he rules it out for now.
It’s the administration find possible ways to allow the US to continue borrowing if Congress cannot agree. One potential option Biden and his advisers are looking at: Does he have the power to get around lawmakers by relying on the 14th Amendment to the Constitution as a last-ditch measure to avoid default?
Maybe. But the main problem now, as Biden sees it, is the short time frame from now until the US can default on its debts. It is almost certain to be troubled by the courts, which will likely push the country beyond June 1, which is when the Treasury Department says the US cannot pay its bills.
“We cannot take a unilateral action that can succeed in two weeks or three weeks,” Biden told reporters during a press conference in Hiroshima, Japan, on Sunday as he concluded the Group of Seven summit. “That’s the issue.”
Biden sees the 14th Amendment route as a problematic, untested legal theory to ensure the nation meets its financial obligations. The Treasury says if Congress fails to act before the June 1 deadline, it could kick the country into a painful recession.
However, with White House and Republican lawmakers fighting over whether Congress should allow the government to take on more debt so the country can pay its bills — as Biden wants — or insist on matching it is deep cuts in spending, as requested by the GOP, it is not surprising that the president may be looking at emergency alternatives.
Biden signaled over the weekend that the 14th Amendment option is not completely off the table for the future.
“It’s up to the lawmakers,” Biden said in Hiroshima. “But my hope and goal is: If we can solve this problem, I’ll find a reason to take it to the courts to see if the 14th Amendment is, in fact, something that can stop it. .”
What does the 14th Amendment say?
The amendment, ratified after the Civil War, is best known for its provisions addressing citizenship and equal protection under the law. The Supreme Court used it to rule out racial integration in schools in Brown v. Board of Education and recognition of same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges.
It also includes this clause, which some legal scholars see as relevant to today’s showdown: “The valid public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for the payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, will not be asked.”
The default, they argue, is unconstitutional and Biden has a duty to effectively cancel the debt limit if Congress does not raise it, so that the validity of the nation’s debt is not called into question.
Why is it still being discussed?
Congress established the borrowing limit, and it is up to Congress to adjust it. But the president faces pressure to act on his own because some top Republicans see default, a likely outcome soon, as an acceptable bargaining tool. That has sparked concerns within the White House that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy may not be able to deliver the votes for a deal to lift the debt limit or could be fired from his position for even trying to do so. .
The concerns were highlighted Wednesday night at a CNN town hall former President Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner in 2024. “If they don’t give you more cuts, you have to do a default,” Trump said.
The former president said he believed the Democrats were “absolutely caved” and a default would be avoided. But he said a default would be better than allowing the federal government to continue spending like “drunk sailors.”
What did Biden say?
Biden said his administration is studying the idea of invoking the 14th Amendment. He said he doubts it’s a viable option but “one thing I reject is the default.”
“The problem has to be litigation,” he said of the constitutional reasoning on Tuesday. If the case is tied up in court, the government may fail.
If and when the current impasse is resolved, he said, he’s thinking about seeing if the 14th Amendment route could be a solution to avoid similar showdowns in the future.
“Once we’re done with this, I’m thinking about looking — months down the road — to see if — what the court is going to say about whether it’s going to work or not,” Biden said.
His Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, was more blunt, saying it would spark a “constitutional crisis.”
Has it been learned before?
Yes. During past debt limit showdowns, including talks in 2011 between former President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans, White House and Department of Justice lawyers have also flirted with using the 14th Amendment as an emergency solution. They doubted it was a viable alternative to raising the debt limit in Congress, and never asked for it.