Former President Bill Clinton told the National Memo’s Joe Conason yesterday that, were he still president, he would invoke the 14th Amendment “without hesitation” to raise the debt ceiling if Congress fails to do so by the Aug. 2 deadline:
Former President Bill Clinton says that he would invoke the so-called constitutional option to raise the nation’s debt ceiling “without hesitation, and force the courts to stop me” in order to prevent a default, should Congress and the President fail to achieve agreement before the August 2 deadline.
Sharply criticizing Congressional Republicans in an exclusive Monday evening interview with The National Memo, Clinton said, “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.”
Lifting the debt ceiling “is necessary to pay for appropriations already made,” he added, “so you can’t say, ‘Well, we won the last election and we didn’t vote for some of that stuff, so we’re going to throw the whole country’s credit into arrears.”
The 14th Amendment reads, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law… shall not be questioned,” which some scholars have interpreted as giving the president the authority to pay off all outstanding obligations of the United States, regardless of the statutory debt limit imposed by Congress. Prof. Garrett Epps, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Baltimore, wrote in the Atlantic that “it’s not hard to argue that the Constitution places both payments on the debt and payments owed to groups like Social Security recipients — pensioners, that is — above the vagaries of Congressional politics.”
Republican economist Bruce Bartlett wrote that the president has “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.” Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has hinted that the debt ceiling violates the 14th Amendment, and several senators have been looking into the validity of the administration disregarding the statutory debt limit.
As ThinkProgress’ Ian Milhiser wrote, “The 14th Amendment’s Public Debt Clause has never been tested in court, so it is anyone’s guess how it would apply if President Obama decided to save the country from economic ruin by continuing to spend the money Congress lawfully appropriated after we hit the debt ceiling. But it is not even clear that courts would take the case if someone sued to force the United States to default on its debts.” According to Clinton, Treasury officials during his administration looked into invoking the 14th Amendment in case the debt ceiling wasn’t raised.