The 14th Amendment Option Is Not Viable

Though the White House says it has no plans to invoke the 14th Amendment and raise the debt ceiling unilaterally, murmurs have kicked up once again that they might do it anyway. They would be basing their action on the first sentence of Section 4:


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.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner invoked the first 10 words and the last four when he argued in favor of the 14th Amendment option. But the words in the middle are there for a reason, and the phrase “authorized by law” is key. It takes the power to raise the debt ceiling out of the president’s hands because the president doesn’t pass laws. Section 5 spells out where that power rests.

The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

If the president invokes the 14th Amendment and raises the debt ceiling unilaterally, he has violated the very amendment he is citing and exposed himself to the possibility (admittedly remote) of being impeached. His action would probably provoke a Constitutional crisis to go along with the economic one we already have, and would probably wind up at the Supreme Court. Depending on which side of the bed Anthony Kennedy wakes up on as he hears arguments in the case, we either end up with a vastly weakened Obama presidency or a permanently imperial American presidency, and a greatly weakened US dollar. And probably a whole bunch of other negative consequences that haven’t occurred to me yet. Invoking the 14th to raise the debt ceiling would be a very dangerous move for Obama to make.


Besides all that, raising the debt ceiling all by himself is the last thing President Present would do. He wants everyone else’s hands dirty on this, while his stay squeaky clean.



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