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14th Amendment Option To Debt Ceiling Negotiations Runs Into GOP Opposition


First Posted: 07/07/11 02:32 PM ET Updated: 09/06/11 06:12 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans are pushing a resolution affirming the constitutionality of the congressional debt ceiling, hoping to block Democrats from invoking the 14th Amendment to end the debt ceiling impasse in Washington.

President Obama has been asked twice whether he would use the Public Debt Clause of the Amendment to invalidate the debt ceiling and thus avoid default; both times he has dodged the question, leaving the door open for the option.

On Thursday, Reuters reported Treasury officials were discussing the option, but that may mean nothing more than a statement of the obvious: that Treasury has looked at a myriad of options and is occasionally asked about the constitutional out.

Republicans aren't waiting for any confirmation from the White House before taking on the constitutional option, however.

"I strongly disagree with those who suggest the president has the unilateral authority to put the American people in even great levels of debt," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in a statement announcing the resolution. "Every time the debt ceiling has been raised it has been through an act of collaboration between the president and Congress. That is not only the right policy decision to make, but the correct political decision as well. We have a President, not a King."

"Our resolution puts the Senate on record that any debt-limit increase, today or in the future, should be passed by the Congress and signed by the president," Graham concluded.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), head of the GOP's campaign arm in the upper chamber, is joining Graham.

"Unfortunately this is the latest attempt by big-spending Democrats to short-circuit the Constitution in order to avoid making tough budget choices," said Cornyn. "It is unacceptable for Congress and the President to continue to abdicate their responsibility and fail to acknowledge that Washington has a spending problem."

The legal analysis of the resolution, the pair said, rests on three legs:

The Constitution gives Congress the power "to borrow Money on the credit of the United States." The statutory debt-limit was established by an act of Congress and signed into law by the President in 1982. In the nearly three decades since the limit was enacted, it has been increased 38 times by congressional action and presidential approval.

Congress has historically limited the federal debt, either by specifically authorizing the issuance of new debt instruments or through imposing an aggregate limit on federal debt.

UPDATE: Senate Republicans are not unanimous in their opposition. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), in a conference call with local reporters, noted that the 14th Amendment says all debts are valid and "people are looking at the fact that maybe the debt ceiling bill that Congress presumably has to pass for the government to borrow more maybe is contrary to that constitutional provision."

UPDATE II: The text of the resolution, cosponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), can be found here.

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