The move, should Mr. Obama follow their advice, would likely force another constitutional battle between the executive branch and congressional Republicans. But the Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Harry Reid, said Mr. Obama should turn to the strategy as a way of circumventing the GOP on the debt limit.
“We believe you must be willing to take any lawful steps to ensure that America does not break its promises and trigger a global economic crisis — without Congressional approval, if necessary,” the four top Democrats in the Senate wrote in a letter to Mr. Obama.
But Sen. Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the chamber, said abdicating their authority to the White House amounted to “the Democratic leadership hiding under their desks.”
“Democrats in Washington are falling all over themselves in an effort to do anything they can to get around the law — and to avoid taking any responsibility for Washington’s out-of-control spending,” said Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
Several high-profile Senate Republicans have said the GOP should brace for a partial government shutdown as a way of forcing Mr. Obama to negotiate spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt limit past the current $16.4 trillion statutory cap.
But Democrats have balked at that arrangement, which they agreed to in 2011, and said Mr. Obama needs to try to gain the upper hand by making clear he won’t negotiate over the debt ceiling increase.
For decades, Congress has set a cap on the total debt burden the federal government can carry.
Some constitutional scholars say the Constitution’s 14th Amendment empowers the government to cover all of its bills when it reads: “the validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned.”
During that 2011 fight, Mr. Obama rejected calls to bypass Congress, with the White House disputing that he had that power.
Democrats say the debt limit doesn’t authorize new spending, but allows the government to pay for obligations it already agreed to when it passed the annual spending bills or when it set up entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
Republicans, though, counter that when the government runs out of borrowing space, it signals a need to take action on the spending side.