White House rules out Constitution debt option

Tue Jul 26, 2011 3:49pm EDT

Related Topics

* White House rules out using 14th Amendment on debt limit

* Obama has no "luxury" to debate constitutional law

* Only Congress has authority to borrow - White House

By Alister Bull

WASHINGTON, July 26 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will not use a clause in the U.S. Constitution to bypass Congress and raise the federal government's debt limit on his own, the White House said on Tuesday.

"It's not available," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in the administration's firmest dismissal of the 14th Amendment as a way to avoid a U.S. default if Congress fails to lift the $14.3 trillion debt limit by an Aug. 2 deadline.

"The Constitution makes clear that Congress has the authority, not the president, to borrow money and only Congress can increase the statutory debt ceiling. That is just a reality."

The 14th Amendment stipulates the U.S. public debt "shall not be questioned" -- which some legal scholars argue would allow Obama, a Democrat, to sidestep lawmakers and raise the borrowing limit on his own.

The White House has persistently poured cold water on the idea that a provision in the Constitution stemming from the Civil War in the 1860s to make sure Union debts were honored and Confederate obligations were not could be a way around the debt impasse.

But some influential Democrats have continued to see it as a legitimate strategy to sidestep a Congress deadlocked over the debt limit because of fiscally conservative Tea Party Republicans who will not compromise on any tax increases.

Former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, has said that if it came to averting a U.S. default, he would invoke the 14th Amendment, raise the debt ceiling and "force the courts to stop me."

Obama played down this notion on Friday, when he said White House lawyers were "not persuaded that that is a winning argument." But his remarks did signal the 14th Amendment route was at least being reviewed by his administration.

That impression remained intact after comments by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner on Sunday that bypassing Congress was "not a workable option," which also appeared to stop short of a flat-out rejection.

On Tuesday, Carney went out of his way to rule it out.

"You can have an esoteric discussion about constitutional law and what could not or should not be," he said. "But we don't have the luxury or the time. The law is as it is. That is how we view it and that is why we have to reach a compromise." (Additional reporting by Laura MacInnis and Caren Bohan; Editing by John O'Callaghan)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (2)
This may be the first time I have agreed with this administration about anything since Obama came to power. 14th amendment doesn’t give the president the power to do anything. The power to borrow money on behalf of the congress is given in article 1, section 8 of the US constitution. Constitution is very clear on this question. There isn’t even a question there for the courts to answer.

For once, these guys have some decent legal advice. As a practical matter, issuing debt on Mr. Obama’s own accord & having the legitimacy of the debt challenged in court may even do more real harm than a downgrade or outright default.

Jul 27, 2011 12:33pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
tgoyer wrote:
The 14th actually reads: “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. (emphasis mine)”

As Congress is the only body allowed to pass laws, only Congressional budgets can be “authorized by law”. The Pres has no angle to play here and they know it.

Jul 27, 2011 3:04pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.