Former President Bill Clinton said Monday he wouldn't hesitate to raise the debt ceiling without congressional approval--a fraught political course that President Obama has been reluctant to follow as he seeks to broker a deal on spending with Republican leaders.
Clinton told The National Memo he would invoke the constitutional option "without hesitation, and force the courts to stop [him]" if Congress and the White House fail to reach an agreement to raise the debt ceiling by the Aug. 2 deadline when the U.S. Treasury says the government will begin to default on its debts.
That's much stronger language than anything we've heard from the sitting president during the grinding debate over whether and how the debt ceiling can be raised. Some legal thinkers--including, quite clearly, Clinton himself--take the view that the Constitution grants the president the authority to raise the limit by executive order without Congress's approval. The Fourteenth Amendment states: "the validity of the public debt of the United States ... shall not be questioned."
"I think the Constitution is clear," Clinton said.
But many other lawmakers and legal scholars dispute that interpretation. They argue that the president cannot force payment for appropriations under the Constitution's language. There's little doubt, in any event, that President Obama face a major uproar from GOP leaders and their supporters if he were to bypass Congress.
Because of this, Obama has chosen to avoid addressing whether he would invoke the option.
"I don't think we should even get to the constitutional issue," Obama responded during a Twitter town hall two weeks ago when asked about using an executive order. The president has continued to put pressure on Congress to "seize the moment" and implement solutions to the nation's long-term debt problems while moving forward to raise the debt ceiling.
Clinton on Monday slammed congressional Republicans for pushing back against raising the debt ceiling, saying it's simply necessary to cover appropriations previously approved. "So you can't say, 'Well, we won the last election and we didn't vote for some of that stuff, so we're going to throw the whole country's credit into arrears," Clinton said.
A CBS News poll released Monday found that Republicans are losing the battle for public support in the debt limit fight with 71 percent of Americans saying they don't approve of the GOP's handling of the crisis.
The bipartisan "Gang of Six" Senate group--which has operated independently from the group of lawmakers overseen by Vice President Joe Biden--is set Tuesday to reveal a debt plan to colleagues.