The Debt Deal and the Return of the “14th Amendment Option”

WASHINGTON - JULY 14: (L-R) U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) speaks to the media as Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), and Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner listen after Geithner met with the Senate Democratic Caucus July 14, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Geithner discussed the budget and the debt limit with the members. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Jake Sherman’s inside take on the mysterious debt limit pre-deliberations includes this under-reported bucket of nuggets: Democrats have started talking about an end-run around Congress. Again.

In fact, at the tail end of a news conference on Nov. 15, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said as much publicly, although the offhanded remark largely flew under the radar.

“Well, I am with the 11th Amendment, so, is it the 11th Amendment that — 14th?” Pelosi said. “Whatever it is, I am with the Constitution of the United States.”

Nothing raises the ire of Republicans in Congress like the specter of Obama taking matters into his own hands. If the White House goes that route and raises the debt ceiling by executive order, Boehner and his leadership team would likely take immediate legal action to halt the debt ceiling increase, sources familiar with his thinking said.

Why didn’t Democrats just do this in 2011? They floated the concept several times. Tim Geithner, who was famously frustrated with the position Republicans put the government in, used a few public appearances to remind people that the 14th Amendment stipulates that the validity of America’s public debt “shall not be questioned.” Then, by July 2011, Geithner was walking it back.

“We’ve looked at this very carefully,” said Geithner, “as had President Clinton and his lawyers when he was president — and this is not a workable option to limit the damage to the American people that would come from Congress not acting to avoid a default crisis.”

Has anything changed since then? Legally, no, of course not. Public opinion-wise, Americans are more likely to spit at Republicans than at Obama if there’s a debt deal impasse. But we’ve explored most of this territory before.