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With debt limit options narrowing, 14th Amendment chatter returns

Paul M. Krawzak, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

Shapiro said the president can’t ignore the debt limit any more than he can “increase taxes or cut spending unilaterally.”

“There’s an academic dispute,” Shapiro said. “But the thing is, we’re in no danger of not serving the debt.” Shapiro said the Treasury would collect enough in revenue to continue paying bond holders if borrowing were halted. The government would have to temporarily halt some federal programs or reduce federal payments.

Republican lawmakers in the past argued the Treasury could prioritize debt payments while postponing other spending if the debt limit were not raised. Transcripts of meetings between Treasury and Federal Reserve officials during the 2011 and 2013 standoffs show debt prioritization was indeed under consideration.

But according to a Goldman Sachs estimate, some 40% of other federal payments would be at risk, ranging from Social Security benefits to military salaries.

Biden’s shown a willingness to push the legal envelope in his first year, including his extension of a federal eviction moratorium and reversal of the Trump administration’s policy forcing asylum-seekers to wait in Mexico while their applications are processed. The Supreme Court blocked both moves.


But if Biden cited the 14th Amendment to continue borrowing, it’s unclear what recourse opponents would have in court, or how long such litigation would take to resolve.

“The standing issue is a hard one,” Shapiro said. “Who is hurt by unauthorized borrowing? Would it be Congress as an institution?”

Buchanan suspects Republicans might have standing to challenge the action even though they are a minority in both chambers. Yet Buchanan also says it’s possible the Supreme Court “might just decide that this is one of those political questions that Congress and the president have to work out” without a ruling.

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