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Tom Harkin argues Obama can raise debt ceiling by executive order

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin told reporters on a conference call Thursday afternoon that he believes legal precedent and non-action by Congress could culminate to provide an avenue by which President Barack Obama could act alone to raise the nation’s debt ceiling by executive order.

Tom Harkin

“I believe that the 14th Amendment and the finding in Perry v. US gives him the authority to do that,” Harkin said, noting that such an outcome would depend on whether or not Congress took action.

“I think he would need to wait until the last minute — like maybe next Monday or Tuesday — but he could [at that point] say, ‘Well, Congress has not acted and since we cannot go into default, I’m issuing an executive order to raise the debt.’ I think most members of Congress would probably applaud that … most members of Congress don’t like voting on raising the debt ceiling anyway, so they’d probably like that they wouldn’t have to vote on it.”

Afterward, Harkin said, Congress could move forward with discussions on the national debt and deficit. He also realizes that such an outcome would not be universally popular.

“I think the tea party people would probably go kinda nuts, but that’s their stock in trade anyway,” he said.

The 14th Amendment was one of the nation’s Reconstruction Amendments, and contains the due process and equal protection clauses. Section 4 of the amendment, however, deals with payment of national debt — specifically the payment of Union debts following the Civil War and not Confederate ones, although the document contains language which does not limit its boundaries to only that circumstance. It states “the validity of the U.S. public debt shall not be questioned.”

And, in deciding the 1935 case Perry v. United States, Chief Justice Charles Evans wrote that the “language indicates a broader connotation” than simply the debt conflict that followed the Civil War. Overall the high court ruled that voiding U.S. government bond “went beyond the congressional power.”

While the idea of using a SCOTUS decision from 1935 and a Constitutional Amendment penned in 1868 may seem a bit radical, Harkin is hardly the only person to suggest it as a remedy to the ongoing national stalemate over the debt-ceiling. Roughly 10 days ago, President Bill Clinton said he would use the option “without hesitation, and force the courts to stop me.”

“I think the Constitution is clear and I think this idea that Congress gets to vote twice on whether to pay for [expenditures] it has appropriated is crazy,” Clinton said. “[Y]ou can’t say, ‘Well, we won the last election and we didn’t vote for some of that stuff, so we’re going to throw the whole country’s credit into arrears.’”

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