Pelosi on Raising Debt Ceiling Unilaterally: ‘I Would Do It in a Second'

Elizabeth Harrington | January 4, 2013 | 12:28pm EST
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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

( – House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Friday that she would raise the debt limit unilaterally “in a second” if she were president of the United States.


Pelosi and other Democrats have suggested that the president could bypass Congress and unilaterally raise the debt ceiling by invoking the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which states, “The validity of the public debt of the United States…shall not be questioned.”

During her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill, Pelosi was asked about whether she would urge President Barack Obama to do so to address the debt limit, which will be exceeded by the end of February.

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“Will you urge the president on the constitutional obligation to pay [the debt]?” a reporter asked.

“I don’t know, I think I’ve made my—in speaking to all of you, I’ve made my view very clear on that subject,” Pelosi said.

“I would do it in a second,” she said. “But I’m not the president of the United States.”

When asked a second time if she would advise Obama to do so, Pelosi said, “Sometimes I think that the administration hears you more clearly when you say it publicly, than when you say it privately.”

The next battle in Congress will be raising the debt ceiling, after the deal to avert the fiscal cliff failed to address the borrowing limit. President Obama said he “will not negotiate” on raising the debt ceiling, while Republicans have insisted on matching any raise with greater spending cuts.

Although the U.S. officially hit its debt limit of $16.394 trillion on New Year’s Eve, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is imposing “extraordinary measures” to stall exceeding the debt ceiling until Feb. 28, giving Congress not much time to foster an agreement.

At a press conference in November, Pelosi said she is “with the Constitution of the United States,” in particular the 14th Amendment, in suggesting the debt ceiling be raised.

Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton, have proposed that the president could administratively raise the debt ceiling by invoking the fourth section of the amendment, which states:

“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.”

Under current law, the Congress – House and Senate – must pass legislation to approve a raise in the debt ceiling, and the president can then sign it into law. As the Treasury Department explains, “The Debt Subject to Limit is the maximum amount of money the Government is allowed to borrow without receiving additional authority from Congress.”

Republicans have called for using the debt ceiling as leverage to achieve spending cuts. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has insisted any raise in the limit must be accompanied by a “greater amount of spending cuts and reforms.”

Obama, however, said the debt ceiling is not up for negotiation. “While I will negotiate over many things, I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they’ve already racked up through the laws that they passed,” he said on Jan. 1 after the fiscal cliff deal was reached.

“Let me repeat: We can't not pay bills that we've already incurred,” Obama said.

On Friday, Pelosi said she is not concerned about losing leverage in the upcoming debt limit battle, after Democrats achieved their longstanding goal of making the rich “pay their fair share” by raising tax rates on Americans earning more than $400,000 per year.

“I think most of our members—and we are never unanimous, but we do have consensus—most of our members know that for the president to have leverage on the next hurdles that we face that we had to get over this hurdle,” she said.

“By and large I think members understand why it was important not to go over the cliff,” Pelosi said.

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