As lawmakers struggle to resolve the debt crisis, a growing number of observers wonder whether President Obama has one last trump card at his disposal: ignoring the debt ceiling altogether.
Top Democrats are reviving an argument — one that has arisen several times — that the White House could invoke the 14th Amendment of the Constitution to raise the debt ceiling without congressional approval.
“Is there anything that prohibits him from doing that?” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) told the newspaper The Hill. “The answer is no.”
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) has described it as the least bad option if Congress doesn’t act.
The White House, for its part, continues to resist the speculation.
“Only Congress can increase the statutory debt ceiling,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Friday. “That’s just a reality.”
But many legal scholars are suggesting that Obama could do it.
Jack Balkin, a law professor at Yale, has laid out how this would work. At some point after Tuesday’s deadline, Obama would face the demands of multiple contradicting laws. On the one hand, the government is required to pay out money that has already been appropriated. On the other, it would not be allowed to float new debt to cover its obligations.