Senate Democrats are pushing President Biden to take a step never before seen in the White House – invoking the 14th Amendment to raise the federal debt ceiling. However, Republicans are firmly against this move, claiming Biden does not have the authority.
Democrats argue that Biden should not bow to Republican demands for major spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. Instead, they believe he should unilaterally raise the debt limit by invoking the 14th Amendment.
“I personally feel that we should test that and I think that the language is very explicit in that amendment,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D–Ill.).
The 14th Amendment, passed in 1866, states “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.”
Democrats are citing constitutional scholar and Harvard University professor emeritus Laurence Tribe who argued in a New York Times op–ed that “Biden has a duty to uphold the laws, passed by Congress, that have incurred more than $31 trillion in debt.”
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) responded to Biden‘s suggestion by declaring on the Senate floor that “unconstitutionally acting without Congress“ is “not an option.” Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) said Biden would face a legal challenge that would likely end up in the Supreme Court.
Treasure Secretary Janet Yellen also acknowledged serious problems with the 14th Amendment as an answer to the debt crisis.
“There would clearly be litigation around that; it’s not a short–run solution,” she said at a news conference in Japan.
President Biden himself has raised the possibility of using the 14th Amendment, but with caution.
“I have been considering the 14th Amendment,” Biden told reporters after a meeting with congressional leaders at the White House. “The problem is it would have to be litigated…in the meantime, without an extension, it would still end up in the same place,” suggesting that a default still might result if a court stayed his action.
However, Democrats are signaling they might rather roll the dice in court than agree to GOP spending cuts.
“If the alternative is that the Republicans are going to hurtle us over a cliff in which the American economy crashes, we’re thrown into a recession and millions of people are put out of work and our good name around the world is destroyed, then not–great alternatives look like a better option than chaos,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.).
Former President Trump has also weighed in on the issue, calling on Republicans in Congress to “do a default” if Biden doesn’t agree to “massive spending cuts.” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R–Calif.) distanced himself from those comments and insisted that Biden’s refusal to negotiate with him shows the president is the one pushing for a default.
It remains to be seen if Biden will take the controversial step of using the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling. It‘s clear, however, that Democrats and Republicans have vastly different views on the issue.