14th Amendment showdown? GOP senators pre-empt Obama on "debt limit dodge"

President Barack Obama makes a statement to reporters about debt ceiling negotiations, Tuesday, July 5, 2011, in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Two Republican senators launched a pre-emptive strike today against any attempt President Obama may make to ignore the nation's debt limit and continue paying off America's loans.

Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John Cornyn of Texas introduced a resolution making clear that Mr. Obama does not have the authority to pull off a "debt limit dodge," as they called it -- an issue that may arise if Congress doesn't agree to raise the debt limit within a matter of weeks.

"I strongly disagree with those who suggest the president has the unilateral authority to put the American people in even great levels of debt," Graham said in a statement. "Every time the debt ceiling has been raised it has been through an act of collaboration between the president and Congress... We have a president, not a king."

The president is currently in negotiations with congressional leaders to forge a debt reduction deal. Republicans have insisted on creating a deficit and debt reduction plan as a condition of voting to raise the debt limit -- the amount of money the U.S. is allowed to borrow.

The president and his economic team have repeatedly warned of catastrophic consequences for the U.S. and global economy if Congress does not increase the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by August 2.

Should Congress fail to raise the debt ceiling, some have suggested that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution gives the president authority to tell the Treasury Secretary to continue financing the nation's deficits through the sale of Treasury notes and bonds. The relevant section of the 14th Amendment says in part, "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law... shall not be questioned."

Graham and Cornyn said they reject that argument.

"Unfortunately, this is the latest attempt by big-spending Democrats to short-circuit the Constitution in order to avoid making tough budget choices," Cornyn in a statement.

In his Twitter town hall yesterday, Mr. Obama was directly asked whether he would allow Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to continue issuing debt, pursuant to the 14th Amendment. As he has in the past, Mr. Obama dodged the question. (Watch him address the question in the video above.)

"I don't think we should even get to the constitutional issue," he said. "Congress has a responsibility to make sure we pay our bills. We've always paid them in the past. The notion that the U.S. is going to default on its debt is just irresponsible."

While the president has avoided the issue, Geithner has made clear he believes the 14th Amendment gives the president authority to keep issuing debt.

"I think there are some people who are pretending not to understand it, who think there's leverage for them in threatening a default," Geithner said at a Washington event in May, the Huffington Post reported. "I don't understand it as a negotiating position."

Geithner went on to read the 14th Amendment aloud, remarking that the phrase "shall not be questioned" is the "important thing."