Constitutional Law

Is the Debt Ceiling Unconstitutional? Obama Won’t Go There

A constitutional question spurring debate among law professors was put before President Obama on Wednesday: Why not declare the debt ceiling unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment?

The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire blog and National Public Radio were among the news outlets covering the question, posed during a Twitter town hall debate. At issue is the debt ceiling’s constitutionality under a provision of the 14th Amendment that says the validity of the public debt shall not be questioned.

More specifically, it reads: “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.”

Obama, however, skirted the question. “I don’t think we should even get to the constitutional issue,” he said. “Congress has a responsibility to make sure we pay our bills. We’ve always paid them in the past. The notion that the U.S. is going to default on its debt is just irresponsible. And my expectation is, is that over the next week to two weeks, that Congress, working with the White House, comes up with a deal that solves our deficit, solves our debt problems, and makes sure that our full faith and credit is protected.”

NPR analyzes the president’s response this way: “He clearly doesn’t want to get there but it sure sounded like he was keeping all his options open.”

The Treasury Department has said Congress needs to act by Aug. 2 for the United States to avoid a debt default.

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