Senate Dems to Obama: Act Unilaterally on Debt Ceiling

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Jan. 11 2013 4:39 PM

Senate Democrats Urge Obama To Act Unilaterally on Debt Ceiling if Necessary

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Sen. Harry Reid (2nd L) speaks as (L-R) Sen. Charles Schumer, Sen. Richard Durbin, and Sen. Patty Murray listen during a news conference last month

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Senate Democratic leaders sent what Politico describes as a “strongly worded letter” to President Obama Friday, urging him to go at it alone and raise the debt ceiling without Congress if a bipartisan agreement can’t be reached in time. The letter is the latest illustration of how Democrats in Congress are increasingly convinced Obama has the legal power to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally through the 14th Amendment. So far, the White House has not been too eager to discuss the option. In the summer of 2011, Obama said he wasn’t convinced. “I have talked to my lawyers,” Obama said then, according to the Hill. “They are not persuaded that that is a winning argument.”

Obama’s other main choice for acting unilaterally if he’s not comfortable with the 14th Amendment argument is the now-famous “platinum coin” option. But a Democratic aide tells the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent that Senate Democrats see the 14th Amendment as the preferable choice because the coin idea simply wouldn’t play very well with the public.

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“Whatever the legal arguments for and against it, the imagery will be difficult to combat,” the aide said. “What better symbol of out-of-control government spending could you have than a trillion dollar coin?”

Reuters reports that Democrats in the Senate are exploring other legal possibilities that could help the president act without Congress.

In the letter, Senators Harry Reid Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, and Pat Murray make it clear they will support the president if he decides to circumvent Congress, insisting that Obama “must make clear that you will never allow our nation’s economy and reputation to be held hostage.” Failing to raise the debt ceiling could have disastrous consequences for the economy, according to the senators. “In the event that Republicans make good on their threat by failing to act, or by moving unilaterally to pass a debt limit extension only as part of an unbalanced or unreasonable legislation, we believe you must be willing to take any lawful steps to ensure that America does not break its promises and trigger a global economic crisis — without congressional approval, if necessary,” the Friday letter to Obama says.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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