John Fetterman, United States Senator, is pressing President Joe Biden to explore the potential of the 14th Amendment as a means of circumventing a default on the nation’s debt. His proposition arrives amid an ongoing debate about the country’s debt ceiling.
The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, enacted in the wake of the Civil War, is largely recognized for its stipulations regarding citizenship rights and equal legal protection. Nevertheless, it also holds a clause of potential relevance to the current political predicament concerning national debt. The clause states: “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.”
This clause suggests that any default on national debt would be deemed unconstitutional. Accordingly, if Congress is unable or unwilling to raise the debt limit, it would then be President Biden’s constitutional obligation to nullify the debt ceiling and ensure the unquestioned validity of the country’s debt.
Senator Fetterman has expressed a lack of support for any debt ceiling proposal that would inadvertently push people into poverty. This sentiment is primarily due to emerging reports of potential work requirements and cutbacks to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Criticizing the entire debt ceiling negotiation process led by the GOP, Fetterman emphasized on Thursday: “This unfortunate spectacle is precisely the problem with Washington. We are jeopardizing the livelihoods of millions of Americans and playing a dangerous game with the economy, simply for the GOP’s political gains. The 14th Amendment was established for situations exactly like this, and we should be ready to invoke it if necessary. We cannot allow irresponsible political tactics to endanger the economy.”
Furthering his stance on the issue, Fetterman warned, “If the Supreme Court Justices, who are not elected by the people, attempt to obstruct the application of the 14th Amendment and thereby risk the stability of our economy, the consequences will fall squarely on them.”
Fetterman also announced his intent to co-sponsor a legislative effort to abolish the debt ceiling altogether.
The Biden administration is actively exploring potential avenues to permit continued U.S. borrowing in the absence of congressional consensus. Meanwhile, the Treasury Department warns that without congressional intervention, the U.S. could lack the borrowing capacity needed to meet its fiscal obligations as early as June 1, potentially triggering a debilitating recession.
President Biden acknowledges that his administration is examining the viability of invoking the 14th Amendment to avoid a default. He expresses skepticism about the feasibility of this approach, though, highlighting his primary aim of avoiding a default.
Pointing to the possible legal implications of invoking the 14th Amendment, Biden noted, “This route would invariably necessitate litigation.” If legal deliberations were to become protracted, the government could default in the interim.
Despite the current deadlock, Biden expresses a willingness to consider the 14th Amendment as a future solution to similar fiscal crises. Echoing this sentiment, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned of a potential “constitutional crisis” should this route be taken.