How to stop Republicans from tanking the economy over the debt ceiling

If Republicans are going to play this game, Mr. President, you need to play hard ball.


Republicans are threatening to destroy the economy if President Biden doesn’t give into their demands. But the Fourteenth Amendment gives him the power to stop them.

Republicans are taking advantage of the “debt ceiling” to try to force deep, painful cuts to programs Americans rely on. If Congress doesn’t raise the debt ceiling, America might have to default on its bills, destroying the credit of the United States and wiping out millions of jobs.

Remember, raising the debt ceiling isn’t about taking on new debt. It’s about whether America will pay its current debts.

This is a key reason why raising the debt ceiling should not be negotiable.

Ironically, Republicans had no problem raising it three times under Trump, even as they enacted major tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy that caused the nation’s debt to soar.

But now, Kevin McCarthy and his band of MAGA radicals say they’ll only raise it in exchange for drastic cuts to health care, education, veterans’ benefits, and more.

My advice to President Biden: Ignore them. Mr. President, your oath to uphold the Constitution takes precedence. And as the supreme law of the land, the Constitution has greater weight than the law on the debt ceiling.

Section Four of the Fourteenth Amendment states that, “The validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned.”

A debt ceiling that prevents the government from honoring its existing financial commitments clearly violates the Constitution.

So, if Republicans threaten the full faith and credit of the United States, you are constitutionally obligated to ignore the debt ceiling, and must continue to pay the nation’s bills.

Should they wish, let the radical Republicans take you to court.

Even the conservatives on the Supreme Court will likely support you. No “originalist” interpretation of the Constitution could read that document differently,

The Constitution makes it clear that Congress’s power to borrow money does not include the power to default on such borrowings.

If Republicans are going to play this game, Mr. President, you need to play hard ball.


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Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fourteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "Saving Capitalism." He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, co-founder of the nonprofit Inequality Media and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, Inequality for All.