WASHINGTON — With the threat of a default looming, Pennsylvania’s junior United States senator has urged the White House to keep a controversial constitutional remedy on the table if it can’t reach an agreement with congressional Republicans on raising the nation’s debt ceiling.
In a Thursday statement, U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., said President Joe Biden should not rule out using the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which some believe would allow Biden to order payment on the nation’s debts without seeking authorization from Congress.
“The entire GOP debt ceiling negotiation is a sad charade, and it’s exactly what’s wrong with Washington. We’re playing with fire and the livelihoods of millions just for the GOP to try and turn the screws on hungry Americans,” Fetterman said.
Some experts have pointed to Section 4 of the amendment as the basis for that authority, CNN reported on May 12.
The language reads: “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. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.”
Referring to the current standoff, Fetterman noted that “this is the whole reason why the 14th Amendment exists, and we need to be prepared to use it. We cannot let these reckless Republicans hold the economy hostage.
“And, if our unelected [U.S.] Supreme Court Justices try to block the use of the 14th amendment and blow up our economy, that’s on them,” he continued.
Top authorities, including U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, however, are split on whether actually has such authority.
“There would clearly be litigation around that. It’s not a short-run solution,” Yellen said during a recent news conference, where she was asked about the 14th Amendment, according to CNN. “It’s legally questionable whether or not that’s a viable strategy.”
On Wednesday, Biden said he’ll remain in “constant contact” with debt ceiling negotiators and promised to update the nation Sunday upon his return from a shortened trip to Asia for the G7 economic summit.
Biden delivered brief remarks Wednesday before departing on a scheduled trip to Japan that will no longer include stops in Australia and Papua New Guinea previously on the agenda.
“We’re going to continue these discussions with congressional leaders in the coming days until we reach an agreement. And I’ll have more to say about that on Sunday when I’ll have a press conference on this issue. As it stands now, the intention is to go to the G7 and be back here on Sunday.”
The White House confirmed Tuesday after Biden’s meeting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other leaders that the visit would be adjusted.
Both parties have agreed to shrink the circle of negotiators to designated representatives, a move that McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell say they have wanted for weeks.
McCarthy has appointed Louisiana Rep. Garret Graves to negotiate on behalf of Republicans, while the White House has designated budget director Shalanda Young and Steve Ricchetti, counselor to the president.
Biden called Tuesday’s meeting “civil and respectful.”
“I’m confident that we’ll get the agreement on the budget, and America will not default,” he said. “And every leader in the room understands the consequences if we fail to pay our bills, and (that) it would be catastrophic for the American economy and the American people.”
The nation reached its $31.4 trillion borrowing limit in January, and the U.S. Treasury has since employed special accounting maneuvers to continue paying the nation’s creditors.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has repeatedly warned Congress the accounting maneuvers will be exhausted within weeks and that the nation could default on its bills as early as June 1, causing a spiral of domestic and global economic tumult.
All but a handful of House Republicans supported a bill to temporarily raise the debt ceiling in exchange for caps on future federal spending and other cost-cutting measures, including additional work requirements for Americans who rely on government food and medical assistance.
Biden told reporters Tuesday that he’s “not going to accept any work requirements that’s going to impact on medical health needs of people.”
“I’m not going to accept any work requirements that go much beyond what is already (in place). I voted years ago for the work requirements that exist. It’s possible there could be a few others, but not of anything of any consequence,” he continued.
In early May, the White House touted Biden’s planned visits to Australia and Papua New Guinea as “historic” and as a path to reinforce “critical leadership” in the South Pacific region.
The strategic alliance between the U.S., Japan, Australia and India — referred to as “the Quad” — represents a stronger focus on the Indo-Pacific region as China expands influence in the South Sea.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has since canceled the summit for the Quad that was set to take place in Sydney, and the leaders now plan to meet on the sidelines of the G7 meeting of economic world powers.
When asked by reporters if Biden dropping the trip to the South Pacific nations signals weakness to China, Biden replied “No, because we’re still meeting, we still have four good allies.”
The trip would have been the first visit to Papua New Guinea by a sitting U.S. president, according to the White House.
Air Force One is also expected to make a brief stopover in Anchorage, Alaska, later Wednesday on the way to Japan.