14th Amendment Back-Up Plan Resurfaces In Senate Debt Ceiling Debate

Jul 30, 2011 8:14pm

ABC News' Amy Bingham reports:

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, made a plea on the Senate floor Saturday evening for President Obama to invoke the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling if Congress fails to strike a deal before the Aug. 2 default deadline.

“If the Congress through inaction, through inaction or action, tries to destroy or alter those obligations I believe it is incumbent on the chief executive to exercise his authority to make sure the full faith and credit of the United States is not jeopardized. The president should use his authority to do so," Harkin said.

Harkin joins a growing number of Democrats who have called on the president to broadly interpret a section of the 14th Amendment which says “the validity of the public debt… shall not be questioned” as justification for him to authorize continued borrowing if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling.

Read more about the 14th Amendment argument here.

Harkin noted that other presidents have acted when “the vital security of the United States was at stake.” He cited Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase,  Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease Program to help Britain fight off the Nazis in World War II.

“I believe this is just like those times,” Harkin said. “The security, the future improvement of the United States and future generations depend upon the president taking this action, boldly and forthrightly, to preserve the integrity and to make sure that the obligations and the full faith and credit of the United States is not questioned.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., echoed Sanders, saying "if we fail this" she hoped the President would raise the debt ceiling anyway.

"If we can't get together the President will have to take that responsibility, but I hope we can and show the world that we can still work together," Sanders said.

Earlier this month, former President Clinton said if he was in President Obama’s shoes, he would invoke the Constitution and raise the debt ceiling “without hesitation.”

“I think the Constitution is clear and I think this idea that the Congress gets to vote twice on whether to pay for [expenditures] it has appropriated is crazy,” Clinton told The National Memo

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said during Saturday night’s floor debate that he agreed with President Clinton and urged President Obama to use the 14th Amendment as a last-ditch option.

“He must use his Constitutional authority under the 14th Amendment to pay our debts,” Sanders said. “I think that’s just what he should do if he’s left with no other way to protect the full faith and credit of the United States.”

President Obama has said he does not believe the Constitution gives him authority to act without Congressional approval.

"I have talked to my lawyers," he said at a town hall last week. "They are not persuaded that that is a winning argument."

The administration has stopped short of saying the president will not invoke the amendment, but maintains that it “does not believe that the 14th Amendment gives the president the power to ignore the debt ceiling," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

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