WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and other members of Senate Democratic leadership issued a letter to President Barack Obama Friday, urging the White House to bypass Congress on raising the debt ceiling.
The letter, signed by Reid and Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), is the strongest show of support from Senate Democrats that they would back the president if he were to use his executive authority to unilaterally raise the nation's borrowing limit in the face of opposition from House Republicans.
"In the event that Republicans make good on their threat by failing to act, or by moving unilaterally to pass a debt limit extension only as part of an unbalanced or unreasonable legislation, we believe you must be willing to take any lawful steps to ensure that America does not break its promises and trigger a global economic crisis -- without congressional approval, if necessary,” the letter states.
Last week, The Huffington Post reported that Reid privately offered Obama his support for a unilateral option, even though the White House has said that the administration does not believe the 14th amendment -- which states that "the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law ... shall not be questioned" -- gives the president the authority to ignore the debt ceiling.
In the letter, the senators also call on Obama to ignore claims that increasing the debt ceiling is representative of a concession by Republicans to Democrats. The president, for his part, has insisted that he will not negotiate with Republicans over the country's ability to continue to pay off its debts.
"I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they have already racked up through the laws that they passed," Obama said last week. "If Congress refuses to give the United States government the ability to pay these bills on time, the consequences for the entire global economy would be catastrophic."
Read the full letter below:
UPDATE: 6:19 p.m. -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) slammed the letter, referring to any notion that the president would buck Congress on the debt ceiling as the "height of irresponsibility."
"The Democrat leadership hiding under their desks and hoping the President will find a way around the law on the nation’s maxed-out credit card is not only the height of irresponsibility, but also a guarantee that our national debt crisis will only get worse," McConnell said in a statement.
“With the President asking Congress to raise the debt ceiling, Democrats in Washington are falling all over themselves in an effort to do anything they can to get around the law -- and to avoid taking any responsibility for Washington’s out-of-control spending," he continued. "Rather than offering any plan to break the spending habit that’s causing the problem, Democrats are looking at everything from the ridiculous (printing a trillion-dollar coin) to outright abdication of Congressional responsibility. But avoiding this problem will only make it worse, which is why many of us view the upcoming debt limit debate as a perfect opportunity to face up to Washington’s spending.”
The idea that raising the debt ceiling contributes to Washington's alleged spending problem is, however, misleading. Raising the nation's borrowing limit would not authorize any new spending by the federal government, but rather enable the government to continue to pay for obligations to which Congress has already agreed.