The US government could be unable to pay its bills in just over two weeks unless Republican and Democratic officials can agree on a plan to allow the federal government to borrow more.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned Congress and President Biden they have until June 1 to reach a deal to raise the nation’s $31.4 trillion borrowing limit or risk a default on the country’s debts.
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden will resume negotiations with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-California, and other top congressional leaders, though some in his party are suggesting that Biden bypass Congress and take care of raising the debt ceiling on his own.
Some Democrats have suggested that Biden raise the debt ceiling using the powers they say are implied in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Would Biden do it?
“I have been considering the 14th Amendment,” Biden told reporters last week after a meeting with congressional leaders at the White House made little progress on increasing the debt ceiling.
Republicans warn that an end run past the usual path to raising the debt ceiling would be met with legal action.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, responded on the Senate floor that “unconstitutionally acting without Congress” is “not an option.”
Senate Whip John Thune, R-South Dakota, said Biden would face a legal challenge that would likely find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“That will be tested. I think it would have to be litigated in court,” Thune said. “It’s not a realistic solution to the current crisis, but my understanding is he’s talking about potentially raising that issue and getting some sort of a legal reading on it for the next time around.”
How does the 14th Amendment play into the debt ceiling debate?
Section 4 of the 14th Amendment states that the “validity of the public debt of the United States… shall not be questioned.”
The section was meant to ensure that Southern slave-holding states pay war debts incurred by the Union Army and relieve the federal government from paying for reparations to slave-holders.
According to some legal scholars, the 14th Amendment requires Biden to pay all authorized debts.
Constitutional scholar and Harvard University professor emeritus Laurence Tribe argued in a May 7 New York Times op-ed that Biden indeed has a duty to uphold the laws by authorizing an increase in the debt.
Tribe says Biden has not only the right but the duty to increase the limit and should say to the country: “My duty faithfully to execute the laws extends to all the spending laws Congress has enacted, laws that bind whoever sits in this office — laws that Congress enacted without worrying about the statute capping the amount we can borrow.”
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