Will Obama sidestep Congress to raise debt limit? He still won’t say

Zachary Roth
Senior National Affairs Reporter
The Lookout

President Obama is still declining to say whether he'll act unilaterally to raise the debt ceiling if Congress won't agree to do so.

Obama was asked moments ago in a Townhall event run by Twitter: "Will you issue an executive order to raise the debt ceiling pursuant to section 4 of the 14th amendment?"

Recently, some constitutional scholars have concluded that it would be unconstitutional for the United States not to pay its debts--something that likely would happen if the debt ceiling isn't raised before early next month. Republicans are currently demanding enormous spending cuts, while also rejecting any proposed tax increases, before they'll agree to raise the ceiling.

That's triggered speculation that if Congress doesn't vote to raise the limit, President Obama could issue an executive order to do so without Congress's assent.

Back in May, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner appeared to raise the possibility of such a move by pulling out a copy of the constitution at a Washington event, and reading aloud the relevant section: "'The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for the payments of pension and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion'--this is the important thing--'shall not be questioned,'" Geithner said at the time.

But at today's event, President Obama refused, as he has in the past, to be drawn out on whether that idea is in play. "I don't think we should even get to the constituonal issue," Obama responded, after describing the damage that a default could do to the U.S. and world economy.

"Congress has a responsibility to make sure that the U.S. pays its bills," he continued, adding that he expected a deal to be struck between Congress and the White House.

Even though he played things cautiously on the constitutional issue, Obama did use perhaps his strongest language to date to criticize Republicans for their hardline approach to the debt ceiling negotiations. "The debt ceiling should not be something that is used as a gun against the heads of the American people to extract tax breaks for corporate jet owners," he declared.