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Progressives Urge Biden to Use 14th Amendment to Bypass Congress on Debt Limit

(Bloomberg) -- House progressives pressed President Joe Biden to resist Republican demands for concessions on core principles such as fighting poverty and climate change and, if necessary, invoke a provision in the Constitution to override GOP efforts to force a US debt default.

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The plea, in a letter signed by 66 House Democrats, reflects rising concern among the party’s progressive wing that Biden is too ready to make compromises on GOP debt-limit demands such as expanding work requirements for anti-poverty programs, cutting safety-net and climate spending and easing permits for fossil-fuel energy projects.

The progressives urged Biden instead to invoke an untested interpretation of a clause in the Constitution’s 14th Amendment that the US public debt “shall not be questioned.” The amendment was ratified after the Civil War amid concerns that representatives of former slave-holding states might one day seek to repudiate debts run up to quell the rebellion or pay the pensions of Union soldiers.

Some legal scholars have argued the provision allows Biden to ignore the congressional debt limit in order to finance spending already ordered by Congress. But Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen was dismissive of the idea during the 2021 debt limit standoff, and creditors might demand higher interest rates on US debt if repayment were subject to legal dispute.

The House lawmakers, led by Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, told Biden that relenting and negotiating on the GOP demands is “antithetical to our shared Democratic values.”

“We would choose a solution invoking the 14th Amendment of the Constitution over a bad deal,” they added.

Progressives have strongly opposed Republican requests for an easier process to permits for energy projects and expanded work requirements on anti-poverty programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the formal name for food stamps.

Eleven Senate Democrats, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, sent a similar letter to Biden on Thursday.

Discontent among Democratic lawmakers could threaten a deal if it builds, since Biden will need to win votes for the deal from his own party, given that many Republican lawmakers are wary of voting to raise the debt limit under any circumstances. Biden will also need to generate enthusiasm among his party’s core progressive supporters for his reelection bid next year.

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