President Biden on Tuesday said he has been looking at the 14th Amendment as a way to unilaterally work around the debt ceiling, though he acknowledged it will not be a viable short-term solution with the nation on track to default without congressional action by June.
“I have been considering the 14th Amendment, and the man I have enormous respect for, Larry Tribe … thinks that it would be legitimate,” Biden told reporters after a meeting with congressional leaders on the debt ceiling.
“But the problem is it would have to be litigated,” Biden continued. “And in the meantime, without an extension, it would still end up in the same place.”
Biden added that once the White House and lawmakers deal with the task at hand of raising the debt ceiling, he plans to look at whether the court would rule that the 14th Amendment allows the president to continue issuing debt.
McCarthy, however, threw cold water on the idea.
“Really think about this, if you’re the leader, if you’re the only president and you’re going to go to the 14th amendment to look at something like that – I would think you’re kind of a failure of working with people across sides of the aisle, or working with your own party to get something done,” he said at the Capitol.
Talk of whether the debt limit is constitutional under the 14th Amendment — which generally deals with citizenship and was added to the Constitution after the Civil War — has heated up inside the Beltway as concerns the U.S. could default grow increasingly urgent.
The idea hinges on a phrase in the 14th Amendment that says the public debt “shall not be questioned.”
But some Biden administration officials have been extremely reluctant to embrace the idea, pointing to the potential legal and economic consequences.
“There is no way to protect our financial system and our economy other than Congress doing its job and raising the debt ceiling and enabling us to pay our bills,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Sunday on ABC. “And we should not get to the point where we need to consider whether the president can go on issuing debt. This would be a constitutional crisis.”
Yellen would not explicitly say the idea was not being considered but described it as “one of the not good options” if Congress fails to act.
Tribe, the Harvard law professor Biden invoked on Tuesday, previously opposed the idea, but he said that, while overarching issues remain, “they are the wrong ones for us to be asking.”
“The right question is whether Congress — after passing the spending bills that created these debts in the first place — can invoke an arbitrary dollar limit to force the president and his administration to do its bidding,” he wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times.
Yellen has warned lawmakers the U.S. could breach the debt limit by early June, meaning the country would default if Congress does not act. A default would lead to increased interest rates, the potential loss of jobs, a likely drop in the stock market and delayed Social Security payments, among other consequences.
Biden met with congressional leaders at the White House on Tuesday, though the sides did not appear to make meaningful progress toward avoiding default.
Emily Brooks contributed. Updated at 8:18 p.m.