Obama Could Raise the Debt Ceiling…But He Won’t
Policy + Politics

Obama Could Raise the Debt Ceiling…But He Won’t


Here’s the hot new idea: President Obama raises the $16.7 trillion debt ceiling on his own, scorning the need for congressional approval.

It’s an option because House Republicans are using the government’s borrowing authority—which must be lifted by mid-October—as a bargaining chip to delay Obamacare. GOP lawmakers see the debt ceiling as their best opportunity to pressure the president into surrendering to their agenda on spending cuts and taxes—while the administration has repeatedly taken a hard line against any negotiations over the government’s ability to borrow.

Potomac Research Group’s chief political strategist Greg Valliere predicted on Monday that Obama could simply raise the debt ceiling in November by executive order and deal with the ensuing litigation challenging the move in the months that follow. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) claims Obama has the mandate to raise the debt ceiling on his own because of the 14th Amendment.

This averts the possibility of a default, while showing that even a seemingly weak White House can still trump the gridlock on Capitol Hill.

Obama is not shy about using executive authority, and he surely has heard from Constitutional scholars who believe he has the authority to raise the debt ceiling on his own,” Valliere said in a note.

Here are the arguments for and against this possibility:

* YES – Obama does take executive actions on issues that involve long-term U.S. interests. He outlined this principle in his second inaugural address.

At the president’s request, the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday issued strict limits on carbon emissions from new power plants. The president defied the threat of a Senate veto in 2012—and named Richard Cordray as the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a legally questionable move.

The debt ceiling would be a much broader use of executive authority than what the administration has exercised on other domestic issues.

* NO – The president could benefit politically if a cratering economy—due to the debt ceiling stalemate—causes Republican opposition to melt away. Congress is notoriously unpopular with the American people, who tend to be much more forgiving of Obama.

Both the president and Congress should take a further beating in their favorability ratings if the debt ceiling crisis happens. But if Obama sees a chance to break the spine of House Republicans—and do more to enact his agenda—it is a distinct possibility that he lets the drama play out.

When saying that he won’t negotiate with Republicans, Obama notes that his successors should not have basic government functions held hostage to Congress. This could be a way to enshrine that philosophy.