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Analysis: Democrats Urge Obama To Unilaterally Raise Debt Ceiling

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Some Democrats on Capitol Hill should consider invoking the 14th amendment. Virginia Congressman Jim Moran is among 21 Democrats to sign a draft letter urging President Obama to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling if lawmakers don't reach a deal before the government reaches its limit. As Alex Bolton, senior staff writer for The Hill newspaper has reported, it's unclear if courts would uphold such a strategy.

What do Democrats argue the 14th amendment would do in this case?

"They say it would empower the President to act unilaterally. The way it's worked since 1917, if the President wanted to expand or increase the nation's borrowing authority, he would need to get approval from Congress. That has been relatively easy throughout the 20th century until 2011, when Republicans demanded steep spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. President Obama agreed to those cuts, he agreed to cut $917 billion in discretionary spending in exchange for an expansion of U.S. borrowing authority. But now he says he's not going to do that anymore. He's not going to negotiate to raise the debt ceiling, and that raises the question, and the uncertainty, as to whether the Republicans are going to expand that borrowing authority"

"Now what Democrats are saying are that if Republicans don't, then the President should do so unilaterally. He should direct his Secretary of the Treasury to sell bonds on the open market to raise money to fund U.S. programs."

How would Congressional Republicans challenge the President if he goes ahead with this plan?

"That's a good question, because it's never happened before. There isn't any case law or judicial precedence that would offer guidance in this instance. It's uncharted waters, so we don't know what the legal ramifications would be. Presumably, Congressional Republicans would challenge this issue in court, but we don't know exactly how that would happen. We don't know how they would get standing in court to address this issue."

During the last debt ceiling debate, the President did not consider this tactic. Are there any indications this time may be different?

"The President was asked about this in the summer of 2011. In fact, former President Bill Clinton was one of the proponents of this tactic. At the time, President Obama's lawyers reviewed it, and concluded that it wasn't a winning legal arguement. However, that was before he ran for election, before he went into these protracted negotiations with Republicans in the summer of 2011. That resulted in the downgrading of the U.S. credit rating; it cost the U.S. economy. Given what is at stake for the economy, the President may change his mind and decide that the legal rout is the safer way to go."


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