Progressive Calls to 'Invoke' the 14th Amendment Grow Louder (and Dumber)

At the end of the week last week, we saw negotiations on the debt ceiling battle break down a bit. It would appear that Democrats are looking for any reason to stand their ground and not cut a deal. It’s pretty clear why they don’t want to cut a deal, though, as it would give Republicans a victory going into a crucial election cycle.


But in an effort to avoid cutting a deal, they are chasing some weird strategies to get around the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Last week, Democrats pushed for a discharge petition that would bring a clean debt ceiling bill to the floor without House Republican leadership stopping it. The problem, though, is that they need five Republicans to come across the aisle twice – once to sign the petition to bring it to the floor and again to vote to pass the clean debt ceiling bill. It’s virtually impossible, especially given that it doesn’t seem every Democrat has signed it yet, and even if they did, it wouldn’t actually go into effect until after the June 1 target set by the Treasury.

The other big plan the Democrats – particularly the super progressives – have come up with is this idea that you can utilize the 14th Amendment to declare the debt ceiling unconstitutional. I mentioned this earlier this month, but in recent days, the calls have grown stronger.

The 14th Amendment plan is based on the idea that the debt ceiling is incompatible with the public debt section of the 14th Amendment.

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. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.


But the problem with that interpretation is twofold.

  1. No one has ever, ever considered using a relatively obscure Section of an Amendment that was meant to make sure the U.S. didn’t default on debts accrued during the Civil War to usurp the power of the power Congress has.
  2. It would create legal and economic uncertainty that would be much worse than the current crisis.

Biden has switched from acting as though it isn’t an option to openly flirting with the idea, as evidenced by comments made at a press conference during the G-7 meeting in Hiroshima, Japan, on Sunday.

I’m looking at the 14th Amendment, as to whether or not we have the authority. I think we have the authority. The question is: Could it be done and invoked in time that it could not — would not be appealed and, as a consequence, pass the date in question and still default on the debt. That’s a question that I think is unresolved.

As Jim Geraghty points out at National Review this morning, this is a pretty significant turnaround from just a couple of weeks ago.

What’s more, at the beginning of May, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that the administration would not “entertain scenarios” where the executive branch unilaterally decides to keep issuing debt beyond the limit set by the debt ceiling.


And now, about three weeks after his press secretary insisted there would be no entertaining of these sorts of scenarios, Biden says he’s now looking at that option. To quote the climax of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., “How’s that for entertainment?”


The play would create chaos in national and global economics. It would almost certainly be challenged in court and the Supreme Court would no doubt strike that move down faster than the economy would tank as a result of it. And, yes, the economy would definitely tank.

See, if Biden orders Janet Yellen’s Treasury Department to ignore the Constitutionally-granted power of the purse (which in and of itself is a Constitutional crisis) and issue bonds that aren’t backed by Congress, you’ll have a situation where no one on earth would actually buy them. There isn’t any guarantee those bonds would be valid because you can expect six Supreme Court Justices minimum to say “What the f—? No.” and invalidate those bonds.

The markets would be in absolute turmoil over this, and the end result would financially wipe out a lot of Americans and (probably) the Democratic Party.


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