Democratic senators urge Biden to use 14th Amendment to raise debt limit

A group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Tina Smith (Minn.) are circulating a letter urging President Biden to invoke his constitutional authority under the 14th Amendment to raise the nation’s debt limit without having to pass legislation through Congress.  

These senators say the spending reforms that Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has demanded in exchange for raising the debt limit are unacceptable and that Biden should circumvent Republican lawmakers by raising the debt limit unilaterally, something that has never been done before and would almost certainly be challenged in court.  

“We write to urgently request that you prepare to exercise your authority under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which clearly states: ‘the validity of the public debt of the United States...shall not be questioned.’ Using this authority would allow the United States to continue to pay its bills on-time, without delay, preventing a global economic catastrophe,” they write in a letter currently circulating through the Senate Democratic conference. 

The signatories on the letter so far include Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).  

More debt ceiling coverage from The Hill:

The lawmakers warned they will not accept any concessions attached to the debt limit that cut federal assistance for low-income Americans without raising taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations.  

“We cannot reach a budget agreement that increases the suffering of millions of Americans who are already living in desperation. At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, we must ask billionaires and large corporations who are doing phenomenally well to start paying their fair share of taxes,” they wrote in response to proposals by House Republicans to increase work requirements for people who rely on Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. 

The Democratic senators warned that Republican proposals in a House-passed bill to raise the debt limit could push as many as 21 million people off of Medicaid and deny nutrition assistance to 1.7 million women, infants and children. 

The lawmakers also blustered at House Republicans’ demands to attach major permitting reforms for fossil-fuel attraction projects to debt-limit legislation.  

“We also cannot allow these budget negotiations to undermine the historic clean energy and environmental justice investments made by Congress and your administration by allowing fossil fuel companies to unleash a flood of dirty energy projects that will worsen the climate crisis and disproportionately impact frontline communities. We must continue the transition from fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy,” they wrote.  

Merkley said the letter is intended to assure Biden that he will have support on Capitol Hill if he decides to use the 14th Amendment to raise the debt limit in the absence of a deal with McCarthy.  

“It’s important because Kevin McCarthy has two main requests: attack ordinary, working families across America by cutting the foundations for health care, housing, education and good-paying jobs, and unleash fossil fuels on America. And both of those are absolutely unacceptable,” he said.  

"I want the president to see that he has the support in the Senate to use the 14th Amendment," he said. "He has support to say no to outrageous demands from the radical right."

Treasury Department Secretary Janet Yellen, however, warned last week that invoking the 14th Amendment would be a "constitutional crisis" and would spur a legal battle.