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Some Senate Democrats urge Biden to prepare to invoke 14th Amendment to tackle debt ceiling


WASHINGTON — Some Senate Democrats are circulating a letter urging President Joe Biden to prepare to invoke the 14th Amendment to lift the debt ceiling and avoid default on his own, without an act of Congress.

The emerging letter, which is still in the works, is a sign of growing progressive dissatisfaction with some aspects of the legislative negotiations, such as Republican demands to impose tougher work requirements to receive federal benefits. The letter is led by Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., and Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont.

“We write to ask you to urgently prepare to exercise your authority under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which clearly states: ‘The validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned'” , write the senators in the draft letter, obtained by NBC News. “Use of this authority would allow the United States to continue to pay its bills on time, without delay, preventing global economic catastrophe.”

“While we cannot default on our debt, neither can we allow the destructive Republican budget to be implemented,” they continue.

The draft letter, which is still being circulated for signatures, comes 15 days before the June 1 deadline set by the Treasury Department for Congress to act or risk violating the debt ceiling.

Sanders said in an interview Wednesday, “The message is that in a time of massive income and wealth inequality, Congress cannot “balance the budget on the backs of children, seniors, and families of workers and forcing children to go hungry”.

“I mean, it’s nonsense. Unacceptable. There’s an option there — it’s the 14th Amendment, it’s been written into the Constitution for a reason,” he said. “The president should implement it.”

Merkley said it was ‘important’ that Biden was able to reject House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s demands, which he said amounted to an ‘attack on ordinary working families’ and would ‘unleash fuels fossils in America”.

“I want the president to see that he has the support of the Senate to use the 14th Amendment or other executive powers, including the platinum coin – that he has the support to say no to outrageous demands from the radical right who is trying to terrorize American families. “, he said on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Biden met with McCarthy, R-Calif., and other congressional leaders, who then offered hopeful signs about the negotiations. But the speaker maintained that they are still “distant”.

In the letter, which was the first reported by the Washington Post, Democrats say the GOP’s reluctance to raise taxes on the wealthy and big business makes it “seemingly impossible to enact a bipartisan budget deal at this time.”

McCarthy flatly ruled out the idea of ​​tax increases on high earners at a press conference Wednesday.

Some experts believe that the debt ceiling law is unconstitutional and cannot prohibit the United States from borrowing to pay its debts. But the Biden administration and its predecessors have been reluctant to invoke the 14th Amendment. The administration of then-President Barack Obama looked into the matter, but his Justice Department has never made public its opinion on the matter. Some officials feared that if such a decision were to be challenged in court, it could undermine the trust and credit of the United States.

Biden said recently that he was “considering” the 14th Amendment, but concluded that it would not resolve the current impasse, given that it “would have to be argued.” But the White House Office of Legal Counsel continues to study the matter, according to a source familiar with the talks, for possible future unilateral use.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., expressed skepticism Sunday on NBC’s “Meet The Press” when asked if Biden should use the 14th Amendment to keep paying the bills.

“I don’t want to give advice to Joe Biden, but I think we should do our job,” he said. “I think that’s a precedent for just absolving Congress of being adults.”

Liz Brown Kaiser And Monique Alba contributed.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.