Senate Dems: We'll back Obama if he raises debt limit unilaterally

Senate Dems: We'll back Obama if he raises debt limit unilaterally

Senate Democratic leaders have sent a letter to President Obama pledging their support if he raises the nation's $16.4 trillion debt ceiling unilaterally in the face of Republican resistance.

Support has been growing among Democrats in Congress for Obama to invoke the 14th Amendment or another legal justification for expanding the nation’s borrowing authority without congressional approval.

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“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 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,” Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Connected Commerce Council - Biden faces reporters as his agenda teeters Biden hits one-year mark in dire straits 'All or nothing' won't bolster American democracy: Reform the filibuster and Electoral Count Act MORE (D-Nev.) and other Democratic leaders wrote in a letter dated Jan. 11.

Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinBipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law Democrats ask for information on specialized Border Patrol teams Democrats face scaled-back agenda after setbacks MORE (Ill.), Senate Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Charles SchumerChuck SchumerVoting rights failed in the Senate — where do we go from here? Forced deadline spurs drastic tactic in Congress Democrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans MORE (N.Y.) and Democratic Conference Secretary Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 CDC leader faces precarious political moment Schumer ramps up filibuster fight ahead of Jan. 6 anniversary MORE (Wash.) signed the letter.

“It is hard to imagine that the Speaker and Leader McConnell would really follow through on their threat to let our nation default on its debts. They are responsible leaders who know better,” they wrote in reference to Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDemocrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Stopping the next insurrection Biden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid MORE (R-Ohio) and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSchumer requests Senate briefing on Ukraine amid Russia tensions Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law There is a bipartisan path forward on election and voter protections MORE (Ky.).

“Sadly, some of their Republican colleagues do not. Therefore, we believe that you must make clear that you will never allow our nation’s economy and reputation to be held hostage,” they wrote in a reference to Tea Party-affiliated conservatives in the House who have vocally opposed more borrowing.

Michael Steel, BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDemocrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Stopping the next insurrection Biden, lawmakers mourn Harry Reid MORE’s spokesman, said Democrats must face GOP demands to slash spending and reform entitlement programs and predicted a backlash if Obama increased borrowing authority without cuts.

“Senate Democrats cannot ignore their responsibilities for political convenience — and the American people will not tolerate an increase in the debt limit without spending cuts and reforms,” Steel said. “Out-of-control Washington spending is costing jobs now, and condemning future generations of Americans to a lower standard of living. Washington Democrats must stop spending money we don’t have.”

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said last week she would invoke the 14th Amendment if given the choice.

“I've made my view very clear on that subject: I would do it in a second,” Pelosi told reporters Jan. 4. “But I'm not the president of the United States.”

Reid has changed his mind on the issue over the past 18 months. In the summer of 2011, he said Obama should not use the 14th Amendment to circumvent Congress.

"We should play by the rules," Reid told reporters at a press conference in July 2011.

Obama rejected the prospect of raising the debt ceiling on the basis of the 14th Amendment when some Democrats suggested it at the time.

“I have talked to my lawyers,” Obama said in the summer of 2011. “They are not persuaded that that is a winning argument.”

A Republican aide suggested Reid has shifted his position because he knows Democrats cannot prevail upon Republicans to pass a debt-limit increase without deep spending cuts attached.

“It sounds like Senate Democrats are running scared because they know they can’t pass the ‘clean’ debt limit the White House is demanding,” the aide said.

— Published at 3:36 p.m. and updated at 8:26 p.m.