The White House insists President Barack Obama can’t — and won’t — use the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling. But a growing number of his congressional allies are urging Obama not to abandon a potentially powerful weapon before negotiations even begin. With Republicans promising another climactic fight over the $16.4 trillion debt limit in two months, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Friday that if she were president, she would invoke the Constitution to raise the ceiling on her own — with or without permission from the GOP. “I would do it, in a second, but I’m not the president of the United States,” Pelosi said. Like many other Democrats, Pelosi is eyeing the language in the 14th Amendment stating that the validity of U.S. public debts “shall not be questioned.” Prominent Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton, have argued that language — added in the aftermath of the Civil War — gives Obama all the authority he needs to break the ceiling.
Realistic or not, the talk underscores growing liberal concern that yet another round of brinksmanship will hobble Washington and the economy — and force Obama into a bad negotiating position — just months after Congress went over the so-called fiscal cliff and then barely averted it with a last-minute tax deal. Whether Obama could invoke the 14th Amendment to raise the debt limit is an open legal question. But that isn’t deterring some Democrats.
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said on Friday the Constitution not only allows Obama to bypass Congress on the debt ceiling — it compels him to. “I think [the Constitution] is pretty clear. He must do something about paying the bills,” Udall said. “If Congress doesn’t give him an avenue to do that, a leader needs to take a course of action if the bills aren’t being paid. That could be devastating to our economy. It could be devastating to our reputation around the world.” The nation reached its $16.4 trillion borrowing limit on Dec. 31, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says his department is currently taking “extraordinary measures” that will only allow the nation to pay its bills for about another two months.