WASHINGTON -- The White House signaled Thursday that President Barack Obama would not use the Constitution to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling in the event of a standoff with Republicans. But there are plenty of key Democrats who think that wouldn't be such a bad idea.

During his Thursday briefing, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney dismissed the idea that Obama has the constitutional authority to increase the debt limit himself if Congress doesn't do it by early February, when the government is expected to run out of money. The debt ceiling is currently capped at $16.4 trillion.

"This administration does not believe that the 14th Amendment gives the president the power to ignore the debt ceiling -- period," Carney said.

Carney said the White House has been consistent in opposing that approach, though he noted "there was a period where this was under discussion" during the 2011 debt ceiling fight. Ultimately, though, the White House dismissed the idea, questioning the legality of that option, he said.

The idea came up last year when House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) refused to pass a bill to increase the debt limit without tying it to matching spending cuts -- a first -- and the country nearly defaulted on its debt as squabbling continued until the very last minute. The standoff resulted in America's first credit downgrade and is projected to cost taxpayers $18.9 billion over ten years.

During that fight, Democrats increasingly urged Obama to invoke the Constitution to raise the debt limit himself. They pointed to Section 4 of the 14th Amendment, which 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, they argued that since the "public debt" cannot be questioned, the debt ceiling itself is unconstitutional.

The 2011 fight appears to be back: Last week, Boehner said any increase in the debt ceiling must be tied to spending cuts as part of ongoing fiscal negotiations. Obama responded with a resounding no. And Democrats are once again citing the 14th Amendment as a way out.

Next week, Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) plans to collect signatures from his colleagues on a letter to Obama, urging him to use the Constitution to raise the debt ceiling if Boehner doesn't relent in tying the increase to spending cuts.

"As you know, Speaker Boehner has explicitly stated that he will withhold support for raising the debt ceiling as leverage to win concessions in fiscal negotiations with the White House," the letter reads. "In the event the Speaker follows through on his reckless threat, we would support your use of any authority available to you, including the 14th amendment, to preserve America's full faith and credit and prevent further damage to our economy."

Welch told HuffPost on Friday that Republicans are playing "a very dangerous game" by using the debt ceiling to gain leverage in budget negotiations. He said he didn't know what else Obama could do if there continues to be a standoff and he's not willing to invoke the 14th Amendment. But in the event that the president is willing to keep that option on the table, Welch said he'll have plenty of support.

"There's a lot of us who do regard that as an option to protect the economy from reckless congressional conduct," Welch said.

If past is precedent, Welch would indeed have the support of a number of prominent Democrats. Among them, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Md.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Assistant to the Speaker James Clyburn (D-S.C.), House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.) and Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), John Garamendi (D-N.Y.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Del Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands). House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also privately backs the idea, one lawmaker told HuffPost last year.

Perhaps the most notable proponent of the constitutional option? Bill Clinton.

Mike McAuliff contributed to this report.

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  • Prison Reform

    The U.S. incarcerates its citizens at a rate roughly <a href="http://www.parade.com/news/2009/03/why-we-must-fix-our-prisons.html" target="_hplink">five times higher than the global average</a>. We have about 5 percent of the world's population, but 25 percent of its prisoners, according to The Economist,. This status quo costs our local, state and federal governments a combined $68 billion a year -- all of which becomes a federal problem during recessions, when states look to Washington for fiscal relief. Over the standard 10-year budget window used in Congress, that's a $680 billion hit to the deficit. Solving longstanding prison problems -- releasing elderly convicts unlikely to commit crimes, offering treatment or counseling as an alternative to prison for non-violent offenders, slightly shortening the sentences of well-behaved inmates, and substituting probation for more jail-time -- would do wonders for government spending.

  • End Of The Drug War

    The federal government spends more than <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18563_162-20072096.html" target="_hplink">$15 billion a year</a> investigating and prosecuting the War on Drugs. That's $150 billion in Washington budget-speak, and it doesn't include the far higher costs of incarcerating millions of people for doing drugs. This money isn't getting the government the results it wants. As drug war budgets balloon, drug use escalates. Ending the Drug War offers the government two separate budget boons. In addition to saving all the money spending investigating, prosecuting and incarcerating drug offenders, Uncle Sam could actually regulate and tax drugs like marijuana, generating new revenue. Studies by pot legalization advocates indicate that fully legalizing weed in California would yield <a href="http://canorml.org/background/CA_legalization2.html" target="_hplink">up to $18 billion annually</a> for that state's government alone. For the feds, the benefits are even sweeter.

  • Let Medicare Negotiate With Big Pharma

    The U.S. has <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/06/01/us-healthcare-costs-sb-idUSTRE5504Z320090601" target="_hplink">higher health care costs than any other country</a>. We spend over 15 percent of our total economic output each year on health care -- roughly 50 percent more than Canada, and double what the U.K. spends. Why? The American private health care system is inefficient, and the intellectual property rules involving medication in the U.S. can make prescription drugs much more expensive than in other countries. Medicare currently spends about $50 billion a year on prescription drugs. According to economist Dean Baker, <a href="http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/intellectual_property_2004_09.pdf" target="_hplink">Americans spend roughly 10 times more than they need to</a> on prescription drugs as a result of our unique intellectual property standards. These savings for the government, of course, would come from the pockets of major pharmaceutical companies, currently among the most profitable corporations the world has ever known. They also exercise tremendous clout inside the Beltway. President Barack Obama even <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/02/barack-obama-politics_n_1847947.html" target="_hplink">guaranteed drug companies more restrictive -- and lucrative -- intellectual property standards</a> in order to garner their support for the Affordable Care Act.

  • Offshore Tax Havens

    The U.S. Treasury Department estimates that it loses about <a href="http://www.ctj.org/pdf/stopact.pdf" target="_hplink">$100 billion a year</a> in revenue due to offshore tax haven abuses. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has been pushing legislation for years to rein in this absurd tax maneuvering, but corporate lobbying on Capitol Hill has prevented the bill from becoming law.

  • Deprivatize Government Contract Work

    In recent years, the federal government has privatized an enormous portion of public projects to government contractors. Over the past decade, the federal government's staffing has held steady, while the number of federal contractors has <a href="http://pogoarchives.org/m/co/igf/bad-business-report-only-2011.pdf" target="_hplink">increased by millions</a>. This outsourcing has resulted in much higher costs for the government than would be incurred by simply doing the work in-house. On average, contractors are paid <a href="http://pogoarchives.org/m/co/igf/bad-business-report-only-2011.pdf" target="_hplink">nearly double</a> what a comparable federal employee would receive for the same job, according to the Project On Government Oversight.

  • Print More Money

    There's an old saying in economics: You have to print money to make money. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/09/underwear-sales-growth-economy_n_1952214.html" target="_hplink">Okay, there's no such saying</a>. Nevertheless, the great boogeyman of many conservative economic doctrines -- inflation -- isn't such a bad idea during periods where much of the citizenry is drowning in debt. Inflation is by no means a perfect remedy: it's a stealth cut to workers' wages. But it also has many benefits that are often unacknowledged by the Washington intelligentsia. Inflation makes housing debt, student loan debt and any other private-sector debt more manageable. Today, when <a href="http://www.corelogic.com/about-us/researchtrends/asset_upload_file448_16434.pdf" target="_hplink">10.8 million</a> homes are underwater -- meaning borrowers owe banks than their houses are worth, moderate inflation could ease that debt burden. By effectively reducing monthly bills, moderate inflation could actually put more money in the pockets of these homeowners to spend elsewhere, thus stimulating the economy. Moderate inflation -- 5 percent or so -- could also help alleviate the <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505145_162-57555780/student-loan-debt-nears-$1-trillion-is-it-the-new-subprime/" target="_hplink">$1 trillion</a> in student debt currently plaguing America's graduates. Make no mistake -- hyperinflation of 20 percent, 30 percent or more -- is bad. But the U.S. has ways to crush inflation when it gets out of hand, as proven by the Federal Reserve under then-Chairman Paul Volcker in the early-1980s.

  • Print Less Money

    The government prints a <em>lot</em> of $1 bills. But it turns out that minting $1 coins is much, much cheaper. Over the course of 30 years, the government could save $4.4 billion by switching from dollar bills to dollar coins. Here's looking at you, <a href="http://www.usmint.gov/mint_programs/nativeamerican/" target="_hplink">Sacagawea</a>.

  • Immigration: Less Detention, More Ankle Bracelets

    The government spends <a href="http://newamericamedia.org/2012/04/ice-slow-to-embrace-alternatives-to-immigrant-detention.php" target="_hplink"> $122 per person, per day</a> detaining immigrants who are considered safe and unlikely to commit crimes. The government has plenty of other options available to monitor such people, at a cost of as little as $15 per person. For the first 205 years of America's existence, there was no federal system for detaining immigrants. The process began in 1981.

  • Financial Speculation Tax

    Wall Street loves to gamble. In good times, financial speculation is the source of tremendous profits in America's banking system, but when the bets go bad, the government picks up the tab, as evidenced by the epic bank bailouts of 2008 and 2009. Unfortunately, this speculation is difficult to define in legalistic terminology and even more difficult to police. One solution? By taxing every financial trade at the ultra-low rate of 0.25 percent, the U.S. government can impose a modest incentive against gambling for the sheer sake of gambling. If there's an immediate cost to placing a bet, a lot of traders will choose not to bet. What's more, this tax could raise about <a href="http://www.ips-dc.org/media/why_a_financial_transaction_tax" target="_hplink">$150 billion a year</a> for the federal government.

  • Carbon Tax

    Taxing greenhouse gases would generate $80 billion a year right now, and up to $310 billion a year by 2050, <a href="http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2012/07/carbon-tax-mckibbin-morris-wilcoxen" target="_hplink">according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution</a>. It would also help avert catastrophic ecological and economic damage from climate change.