Republican Economist: Obama Has Constitutional Authority To Ignore Debt Limit

Former Reagan and Bush economist Bruce Bartlett

The GOP is attempting to leverage the threat of default and an economic catastrophe to secure draconian spending cuts while protecting the wealthy and corporations from any tax increases. But according to Bruce Bartlett, a top economic adviser to Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, they may have less leverage than they think.

Bartlett asserts that President Obama has the constitutional authority to ensure the validity of the U.S. debt by disregarding the debt limit even if Congress fails to approve an increase:

The essence of the argument involves section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which reads: “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”

In my view and that of Prof. Epps, this means that the president would have constitutional authority to take extraordinary measures to protect the public credit and prevent a debt default even if it means disregarding the debt limit, which is statutory law subordinate to the Constitution.

Since my article appeared, I have had the opportunity to do further research on this topic and now feel even more strongly that the Fourteenth Amendment trumps the debt limit.

You can read Bartlett’s full piece, which includes a detailed legal analysis, here.

Bartlett has plenty of company. The same theory has been advanced by Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) and hinted at by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.