Will Obama bypass Congress on debt ceiling?

The debate over raising the national debt ceiling is set to resume once the holiday break is over. As the stalemate persists, some Democrats are suggesting a constitutional end-run, while a few citizens are reconsidering their earlier positions.

CBS News correspondent Whit Johnson reports that the debate over the debt ceiling leaves no easy answers, leaving the option of a congressional end-run by President Obama a possibility.

Three weeks ago, when Courtney Hinton was asked in a CBS News poll if she thought Congress should raise the debt ceiling, she, along with 69 percent of respondents, said "No."

Now, amid fears of a looming crisis, she isn't so sure.

"I think that people don't understand it. Because you really have to pay attention to what it means," Hinton says.

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What it means, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center, is that come early August, the Treasury would only have enough money to pay about 56 percent of its bills.

Former Treasury official Jay Powell says the government would likely pay interest first, leaving popular domestic programs in jeopardy.

"It could be Social Security. It could be Medicare. It could be Medicaid. We can't pay everything," Powell says.

The stalemate in Washington has some asking if President Obama could simply bypass Congress and order the Treasury to keep borrowing.

The argument is based on a little-known section in the 14th Amendment, stating the public debt of the United States "shall not be questioned."

"If Congress refuses to act, the argument would run, the president out of necessity must act in order to follow the command of the constitution," says Garrett Epps with the University of Baltimore Law School.

The idea highlights how desperate the debate has gotten.

"That's crazy talk. It's not acceptable for Congress and the president not to do their job and to say somehow the president has the authority then to basically do this by himself," says Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex.

As the clock ticks down with no sign of progress, Americans like Courtney Hinton, who works hard and lives on a tight budget, can only watch in disbelief.

"This bickering and waiting until the last minute, we're not benefiting from that," Hinton says.

As Washington returns from the holiday weekend, sources close to negotiations say a deal has to be reached by July 22nd in order to get through Congress in time.

  • Whit Johnson

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