Hours after Democratic leaders implored President Obama to invoke the 14th Amendment to unilaterally raise the nation’s borrowing limit, the White House again swatted the idea down, saying only Congress has the authority to act.
Press secretary Jay Carney on Wednesday called the push for Mr. Obama to use an executive order to increase the debt ceiling before the Treasury Department’s Aug. 2 deadline an “esoteric constitutional argument” and said the law is clear.
“It’s not a plausible way to address this problem,” Mr. Carney said. “We do not think it is an option.”
Earlier on Wednesday, top Democrats on Capitol Hill said Mr. Obama should take another look at the constitutional option if Republicans insist on a short-term debt extension rather than a long-term one.
“With the same pen that he vetoes that short term debt ceiling extension, he should sign an executive order invoking the fourteenth amendment to this issue,” Rep. James Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, told reporters after raising the matter in a closed-door meeting with fellow Democrats.
“I am convinced that whatever discussions about the legality of that can continue but I believe that something like this will bring calm to the American people, and will bring needed stability to our financial markets,” said Mr. Clyburn, who is part of the party’s leadership.
Indeed, the move would be rife with legal questions.
The fourth clause of the 14th Amendment reads: “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payments of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion shall not be questioned.”
Citing that language, some argue it means the federal government must pay all its debts and cannot default — meaning the president could act unilaterally to pay all U.S. obligations.
But the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, in an advisory report to Congress earlier this month, said the Constitution does not grant that authority to the executive branch.
• Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.