House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has changed her public position on an issue that divided Democrats during the fight over raising the debt ceiling last summer. She now says that President Obama should use the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling by fiat — to preserve the country’s credit rating and avoid another economically harmful brinksmanship over the country’s borrowing limit.
“I would like to see the constitution used to protect the country’s full faith and credit,” she told a handful of columnists at a roundtable. According to Matt Yglesias, “She didn’t offer a legal argument in favor of the position, but argued on policy grounds that ‘you cannot put the country through the uncertainty’ again, noting that America’s sovereign debt was downgraded by ratings agencies in the wake of the standoff even though it was successful resolved.”
“This isn’t just about credit ratings,” she added. “It’s about the dynamism of our economy.”
Many progressives — including some high-profile members of Congress — urged Obama to short circuit the contrived crisis by taking matters into his own hands. Even Bill Clinton said he would’ve invoked the 14th amendment and dared Republicans to stop him.
But most higher profile Democrats in Congress were wary of over-interpreting the Constitution. Top legal scholars and practitioners, of a variety of ideological leanings, expressed doubts that the 14th Amendment gave the president such wide latitude, and warned of potentially far-reaching consequences if the he took such a unilateral move. Obama administration lawyers reached the same conclusions.
At the time, Pelosi reportedly privately wanted Obama to call the GOP’s bluff. But she declined to say so publicly. This time around she isn’t being so cautious.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.