Obama Not Ruling Out Invoking Constitutional Nuclear Option In Debt Talks

July 6, 2011 1:24 p.m.

During Wednesday’s first Twitter town hall, President Barack Obama made his feelings about the debt ceiling situation pretty clear. Using charged language, he said it should not be “used as a gun against the heads of the American people to extract tax breaks for corporate jet owners, or oil and gas companies.” However, the president sidestepped a question about whether it was a good idea to invoke the 14th Amendment to pay government obligations if Congress refuses to raise that debt ceiling — but he didn’t rule it out.

As the Aug. 2 deadline to raise the debt ceiling looms closer and closer, 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.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.”

While Obama didn’t rule out the option when asked about it Wednesday during the virtual town hall, he didn’t wholly endorse it either, saying only that he didn’t think he would be forced to resort to a Constitutional argument in the debt negotiations.

“I don’t think we should even get to the Constitutional issue,” Obama 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 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.”

Republicans have ridiculed any notion that the 14th Amendment could be interpreted to raise the debt ceiling without Congress’ approval, and any attempt to do so, would no doubt spur an explosive Constitutional debate.

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