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Hoyer Backs Obama Using 14th Amendment To Resolve Debt Crisis

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STENY HOYER
AP

WASHINGTON -- House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Wednesday night became the highest ranking Democratic leader to throw his support behind the idea of President Barack Obama using the 14th Amendment of the Constitution to raise the debt ceiling on his own.

That option is "arguably in his power," Hoyer said on MSNBC's "The Ed Show."

"Very frankly, if it came down to his looking default in the eye on Tuesday or taking this action, as President Clinton said, it would be better to take the action and find out later that perhaps he went beyond his authority but … protected the creditworthiness of the United States of America."

House Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) also lent support to the constitutional approach.

"I think the president should keep all his legal options on the table," Van Hollen said on the same show.

Their comments come a day after other House Democratic leaders unexpectedly threw their support behind Obama taking that route in the debt standoff. Earlier Thursday, another group of House Democrats organized their own press event to apply pressure on the president to invoke the 14th Amendment.

The White House maintains the option is off the table because Obama may not have the legal authority to unilaterally lift the debt ceiling. But with the clock ticking on Congress to reach a deal by August 2, and with some legal experts insisting it is within the president's authority, some Democrats are hoping Obama will rethink his opposition.

The provision at the heart of the constitutional debate, Section 4 of the 14th Amendment, states: “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payments of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.” Essentially, Democrats are arguing that since the "public debt" cannot be questioned, then the debt ceiling itself is unconstitutional.

Over the course of the last several months, several commentators have urged the administration to explore the 14th Amendment option. In late June, HuffPost reported that Senate Democrats were actively discussing it as an option and giving it increasing consideration as the difficulty of reaching a compromise became more evident. Two days later, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner read the 14th Amendment out loud to a group of journalists, seemingly implying it was a viable option.

NBC’s Chuck Todd asked Obama about the constitutionality of the debt ceiling at a briefing the day after HuffPost’s initial report. The president dodged the question at the time, but has since said that White House lawyers “are not persuaded that that is a winning argument.”

Nevertheless, the argument remains. On Thursday, liberal writers Bob Kuttner and Michael Tomasky both argued in separate columns that Obama should invoke the amendment.

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