Politics

White House says it won’t turn to 14th Amendment, despite impending deadline

The Obama administration is rejecting speculation that the president will invoke the 14th Amendment to declare the debt ceiling unconstitutional, should negotiations with Congress fall through.

Under the amendment, which states that “the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law … shall not be questioned,” the president could find legal leeway to declare the debt ceiling unconstitutional, a series of lawyers and liberal politicos have argued.

At a press briefing on Tuesday, Press Secretary Jay Carney refuted the idea that administration lawyers were investigating the possibility of invoking executive power to forestall the debt crisis.

“I don’t think that I want to get into speculation about what might happen if something does or doesn’t happen,” Carney said. “I am not aware of any analysis being done by lawyers here, and I have not heard the President discuss it.”

However, at the president’s Twitter-themed town hall on Wednesday, Obama was slightly less direct in his rejection of the idea. When asked about the possibility that the White House would turn to the amendment in a last-ditch effort at preventing fiscal embarrassment, he responded simply, “I don’t think we should even get to the constitutional issue.”

Obama officials have repeatedly stated that the White House intends to settle negotiations over the debt ceiling in the next two weeks, which would leave Congress time to pass a bill by the Treasury Department’s deadline of August 2, when, Treasury analysts predict, the United States would hit its $14.3 trillion debt ceiling: “The consequences of defaulting on our obligations for the first time in the history of this country would be serious and unpredictable,” Carney said. “We need to move quickly. We should not procrastinate. We need to get this done.” (Major Garrett: Town hall a sign of anxiety at Obama reelection HQ)

And the White House is moving meetings forward correspondingly quickly. The president attended a series of unpublicized debt meetings this weekend, Carney confirmed, roughly a week after the vice presidential-led meetings collapsed when Republicans said they had reached an impasse and walked out. Obama also plans to host eight lawmakers on Thursday in a potentially marathon effort to reach an agreement.

Yet while repeating its intentions of reaching a solution by the end of July, the White House has also stood behind its goal of achieving a long-term answer rather than a temporary one within the tight time limit it faces. And the administration continues to publicly state that officials aren’t looking into the possibility of using the amendment as an emergency escape.

“The president was pretty clear that he does not support going in that direction,” Carney said of the potential for an interim increase in the debt ceiling to allow for more negotiating time. “And we’ve been clear prior to that … I think to stand here and say, yes, let’s kick the can down the road because we need another six months is crazy.” (Obama volunteers mistakes in Twitter town hall)

But this refusal to publicly address back-up solutions leaves the White House with a two-week time frame to craft a trillion-dollar deal on a highly debated issue, even as Obama officials promise to subdue Republicans on a series of points.

And the past several weeks of debt talks have been noticeably rocky, leaving pundits and lawmakers to wonder whether the White House could indeed be moving forward without considering alternative solutions.