House Dems talk up ‘Constitutional Option’

When the subject last came up, President Obama didn’t sound at all interested, but the notion of the president resolving the Republican debt-ceiling crisis through the “Constitutional Option” hasn’t disappeared just yet.

This morning, the leadership of the House Democratic Caucus held a press conference, and three party leaders — House Democratic Caucus Chairman James Larson (Conn.), Assistant Democratic Leader John Clyburn (S.C.), and Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) — actively called on Obama to break new legal ground by using the 14th Amendment.

Here’s Clyburn:

“I would say to the President, that if that’s what lands on his desk — a short term lifting of the ceiling — of the debt ceiling. He should put it on his desk next to an executive order that he will have drawn up. And with the same pen that he vetoes that short term debt ceiling extension, he should sign an executive order invoking the 14th Amendment to this issue. I am convinced that whatever discussions about the legality of that can continue but I believe that something like this will bring calm to the American people, and will bring needed stability to our financial markets.”

Here’s Becerra:

“I think a very clear message should be issued to Speaker John Boehner: Mr. Speaker, House Republicans have failed to govern, failure is not an option for our country, and therefore you leave it to the President to take whatever action is within his power, by his right under the Constitution to move this country forward and make sure Americans do not suffer the consequences of your failure.”

And here’s Larson:

“I know you all have great, grave concern about that because of the ramifications of what it means for the United States for the first time ever in its history to default on its full faith in credit, which is why Jim Clyburn articulated to the applause of our Caucus that the President ought to have his pen right next to it to sign into effect, invoke the 14th Amendment and make sure that debt is taken care of.”

I think it’s safe to say these three didn’t just mention this in passing; the point of the press conference seemed to be (a) to urge Obama to raise the debt ceiling through an executive order; and (b) to let the White House know congressional Democrats won’t mind if he does.

As Larson put it, “What we’re saying is if a small group is really that intent on destroying government and is intent on saying that they don’t believe there is any ramifications for their irresponsibility then we have to have a failsafe mechanism. We believe that fail safe mechanism is the 14th Amendment and the President of the United States.”

I’ve seen nothing from the White House that suggests it’s even a remote possibility, but the Dem caucus leaders’ appeal raises the visibility of the issue a bit, and some news outlets continue to consider the option.

As for why Obama is so reluctant to go down this road, Harvard constitutional law professor Lawrence Tribe’s recent piece appears to summarize the president’s perspective. (thanks to F.B. for the tip)