The most senior House Democrat serving on the committee with jurisdiction over the nation’s debt ceiling says President Obama got it right when he foreclosed on the idea that he could use executive powers to circumvent the limit on the country’s borrowing authority.
At a Tuesday breakfast roundtable with reporters in Washington hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) said ideas like ignoring the debt limit by invoking the 14th Amendment or creating new currency to continue meeting financial obligations without resorting to new borrowing are problematic both on the merits and strategically.
“I really think the President had no choice but to essentially say to the Republican Party, ‘You should not dabble with the debt ceiling,’” Levin said in response to a question from TPM. “That ‘it’s something that would have such serious consequences, and I don’t want to essentially see if I can find ways around it. Those ways are very problematic and essentially what we have to do is to face up to the need to address the sequester and then move on and I don’t want you to use as a weapon the debt ceiling because it’s not a weapon against me, it’s the weapon against the full faith and credit of the U.S. and therefore it’s essentially a weapon against the citizens of this country, our economy, and the global economy.’”
That puts Levin at odds with Democratic leaders in the House and Senate who called upon Obama to defuse the threat of breaching the debt limit by executive fiat — making clear that all of the country’s financial obligations would be met even if Republicans fail to increase the Treasury Department’s borrowing authority.
But by taking executive action off the table, Obama has clarified to key interest groups — including seniors, veterans, and military contractors — that if Republicans refuse to increase the debt limit absent controversial policy concessions from Democrats, they’ll be jeopardizing the government’s commitment to meet its obligations, including benefit checks and payments to public and private-sector workers.
“The Republican party really has to decide how much it’s willing to gamble with the economy of the United States,” Levin added. “I think it would be a dangerous gamble, and I think the President was correct to essentially say it straight out.”
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.