President Obama’s “nuclear option” for resolving the debt ceiling negotiations is to simply order the Treasury to ignore the ceiling and resume issuing debt. I mentioned this on Monday as one of the more unlikely scenarios for resolving the standoff, but the idea is now creeping into the Democratic consciousness.
Matt Zeitlin reported in The New Republic that legal scholars cite two reasons that Obama could get away with overriding the debt limit. The first is that Congress likely wouldn’t have standing to sue the administration. The second is the Fourteenth Amendment: “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.”
And yesterday the Huffington Post reported that a number of Democrats are indeed subscribing to the Fourteenth Amendment view. The article quotes Sen. Chris Coons as saying, “I don’t think, as of a couple weeks ago, when this was first raised, it was seen as a pressing option. But I’ll tell you that it’s going to get a pretty strong second look as a way of saying, ‘Is there some way to save us from ourselves?'” Patty Murray of Washington also called the Fourteenth Amendment approach “fascinating.”
The HuffPo also notes that if Obama were to ignore the debt limit even without providing a Constitutional argument, he wouldn’t be doing anything terribly different from what he’s doing to the War Powers Act now in Libya.
It’s probably very unlikely that Obama would follow this course of action and order the Treasury to issue bonds without Congress raising the debt ceiling, simply because raising the debt ceiling is already an unpopular proposition. Ignoring the debt ceiling law in order to thwart the will of the people would be a huge political loser for Obama, worse than almost any possible compromise outcomes.