Former President Bill Clinton.
Former President Bill Clinton said if faced with default, he would single-handedly raise the debt ceiling using the 14th Amendment and he'd do it "without hesitation, and force the courts to stop me."
Clinton made those comments in an interview with The National Memo, a daily newsletter that concentrates heavily on Washington politics. Clinton also said he thinks that the fact that Congress is allowed to first appropriate funds and then gets a second vote on whether to pay for them is "crazy." The National Memo reports:
Having faced down the Republican House leadership during two government shutdowns when he was president — and having brought the country's budget from the deep deficits left by Republican presidents to a projected surplus — Clinton is unimpressed by the GOP's sudden enthusiasm for balanced budgets. But he never considered invoking the Fourteenth Amendment — which says "the validity of the US public debt shall not be questioned" – because the Republicans led by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich didn't threaten to use the debt ceiling as a weapon in their budget struggles with him.
According to Clinton, the Gingrich Republicans thought about that tactic before rejecting it — and Treasury officials who served under Clinton commissioned legal research on the president's power to raise the debt ceiling without congressional approval. While some legal scholars believe the Fourteenth Amendment requires Congress to fund the debt that results from its appropriations, and therefore empowers the president to raise the debt ceiling, others vehemently disagree.
It's Section 4 of the 14th Amendment that's in question, if you're curious. That section was brought to light when in an interview with Politico's Mike Allan in May, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner pulled out a copy of the Constitution and read the section in question. He said it made using the debt ceiling as a negotiating strategy "not credible."
During his Twitter town hall in early July, Obama gave a non-answer when he was asked if he would use 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling.
"I don't think we should even get to the constitutional issue. Congress has a responsibility to make sure we pay our bills. We've always paid them in the past," Obama said. As our friend Frank at It's All Politics wrote at the time, that is not a "no."
NPR's Melissa Block spoke to Jeffrey Rosen, a professor of law at The George Washington University, who gives some great background on the amendment and says there's only been one Supreme Court case that interprets the amendment. In Perry v. United States, the court said the amendment should be interpreted broadly.
"We shouldn't for a moment dismiss the possibility that serious constitutional arguments about clauses that haven't thought of for a long time can transform political debates," Rosen told Melissa. "In Bush v. Gore, in the healthcare argument, these are all cases where the constitutional arguments were made up on the fly. But that doesn't mean that they're not plausible.
"The truth is that the situation today is similar, although not identical to the one that confronted the nation right after the Civil War," Rosen said. "And the arguments on both sides are strong, plausible and deserved to be debated in the public arena."
Update on July 20 at 4:58 p.m. ET: In an earlier version of this post, we misattributed a quote to "Perry" in the second to last paragraph, when it should have been Rosen. We've corrected that in the text.