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Tipsheet

Biden Thinks He Has the 'Authority' to Invoke 14th Amendment on Debt Ceiling

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

President Biden on Sunday said he believes he has the authority to unilaterally address the debt ceiling, but that the nation could still default if he pursued using the 14th Amendment.

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“I’m looking at the 14th Amendment as to whether or not we have the authority — I think we have the authority,” Biden said during a press conference at the G-7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan. “The question is, could it be done and invoked in time that it would not be appealed, and as a consequence past the date in question and still default on the debt. That’s a question that I think is unresolved.” 

Section 4 of the 14th Amendment states that 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," which some argue gives the president authority to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally since it would be unconstitutional for the U.S. to stop paying its debts.  

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said he believes Biden's position on invoking the 14th Amendment "is legally frivolous."

“That’s a provision that was put in place to say that we’re going to pay our Civil War debts,” Cruz added. “It refers to the Civil War that we had just fought and paying those war debts off.”

In the press conference, Biden went on to note that he didn’t think invoking the 14th Amendment would ultimately be necessary as congressional leaders expressed their optimism during a recent meeting that the nation would not default. 

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“So I’m assuming that we mean what we say and we’ll figure out a way to not have to default,” Biden said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has come out forcefully against the notion of invoking the 14th Amendment.  

“It is the Chamber’s view that attempting to invoke so-called ‘powers’ under the 14th Amendment would be as economically calamitous as a default by a failure to lift the debt limit in a timely manner,” Neil Bradley, the Chamber’s chief policy officer, wrote in a recent letter to Biden.

“The legal uncertainty around this debt combined with increased interest costs would impose significant and long-term costs on the economy similar to default,” added Bradley, a former senior aide to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. “Simply put, there is no alternative to reaching a bipartisan agreement to raise the statutory debt limit.”

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