Former President Bill Clinton said he would exercise the constitutional power to raise the nation’s debt ceiling “without hesitation” if he were faced with a default while serving as president, and would “force the courts to stop me.”
“I think the Constitution is clear and I think this idea that the Congress gets to vote twice on whether to pay for [expenditures] it has appropriated is crazy,” Clinton said during an interview Monday night with The National Memo.
President Obama has sidestepped the question of whether he would invoke the Constitution in the event an agreement on deficit reduction is not reached, saying, “I don’t think we should even get to the constitutional issue. … The notion that the U.S. is going to default on its debt is just irresponsible.”
But several scholars have weighed in on whether the Constitution offers a solution should Congress fail to act. Yale law professor Jack Balkin and Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe have agreed that Section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment does not authorize the President to act, but Tribe and others have noted that Congress’s behavior in “acting in a way to call the public debt into question” may be unconstitutional, even if there is no clear remedy other than to hold Congress publicly accountable.
In a new blog post, Ohio State University law professor Peter Shane, who specializes in executive power, calls the argument that the President has the power under the Fourteenth Amendment to raise the debt limit “implausible.” He suggests, however, that there is some statutory authority available to the President that would enable him to “provide for contingencies” by deciding for himself in what areas government spending should be deferred in order to keep needed functions operating without borrowing money.