It Looks Like We Can’t Just Ignore the Debt Ceiling

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Keep working on that ceiling, bro. Photo: iStockphoto

With the clock ticking ever closer to the August 2 debt-ceiling deadline, many people have been suggesting, entirely seriously, that the Obama administration just ignore the existence of the debt ceiling, continue to issue debt, and avert a potential crisis. Proponents of this strategy claim this could be done because the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, in addition to providing equal protection under the law for all citizens, does another thing that people pretty much forgot about until a few weeks ago: It declares that "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."

So if the validity of the debt can't be questioned, then maybe Congress isn't allowed to cap debt in the first place, and we can forget this whole debt-ceiling thing ever happened? President Obama was asked about this during his Twitter town hall earlier this week, and dodged. But today, both Nancy Pelosi ("Why are we talking about something that's not going to happen?") and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner's general counsel ("Secretary Geithner has always viewed the debt limit as a binding legal constraint that can only be raised by Congress") shot down the idea. So, that's pretty much over. It was a beautiful dream, though.

FACT CHECK: Treasury General Counsel George Madison Responds to New York Times Op-Ed on 14th Amendment [Treasury Department]
Pelosi On Obama Ignoring The Debt Limit: Ain’t Gonna Happen [TPM DC]