While the federal government has been playing chicken with U.S. credit, liberal academics -- and even some Democratic members of Congress -- have begun questioning whether the legislative branch actually has the power under the Constitution to force the federal government to default on its debts.
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Their argument rests on a unique reading of the fourth section of the 14th Amendment, which seemingly forbids Congress from preventing the country from paying what it owes: "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law...shall not be questioned."
It's an interpretation that Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) called "crazy talk," and that President Obama refused to comment on at a recent press conference.
But even if it's correct, and even though Republicans are holding the debt ceiling hostage to unpopular conservative legislative priorities, it's not a step the administration wants to take, or would be able to take lightly.
Conversations with experts indicate that the president would likely need one of the most powerful offices in the government to agree with this view before they could blow past the debt limit. And even if Obama got the go-ahead, the White House would have to be prepared for epic political and legal battles with the GOP, which would no doubt follow if Obama took such drastic action.