Former President Bill Clinton would invoke the 14th Amendment – “without hesitation, and force the courts to stop me,” he says – to raise the debt ceiling if he were in President Barack Obama’s shoes, with the deadline to raise the limit just two weeks away.
“I think the Constitution is clear and I think this idea that the Congress gets to vote twice on whether to pay for [expenditures] it has appropriated is crazy,” Clinton said in an interview with journalist Joe Conason.
Clinton said he would turn to the Constitution “if it came to that,” but doesn’t think that Obama will need to. “It looks to me like they’re going to make an agreement, and that’s smart,” he said.
Obama has sidestepped direct questioning about invoking a clause in the amendment to the Constitution that has been interpreted by some to mean that the president has the authority to take all necessary steps to maintain the good credit of the United States. But a lawyer for the Treasury Department has publicly refuted that interpretation, saying that Secretary Timothy Geithner has “never argued that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows the president to disregard the statutory debt limit.”
Clinton said that raising the debt ceiling “is necessary to pay for appropriations already made.” Congressional Republicans, he said, “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.”
The former president also noted that he could have faced a similar crisis during his own time in office, when congressional Republicans weighed blocking a debt ceiling hike. Republicans “did think about doing that … and I knew they were thinking about it,” but they decided against it because “they didn’t want to get caught” in a position where they might be seen as attacking Clinton’s two immediate predecessors, both Republicans.
“The reason that raising the debt limit is so unpopular is that people think you’re voting to keep [increasing] deficit spending, instead of voting to honor obligations that were already incurred,” he said. “I think [the Gingrich Republicans] figured I’d be smart enough to explain to the American people that they were refusing to pay for the expenses they had voted for when Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were president. And that would make ‘em look bad.”