Biden’s Invocation of 14th Amendment Would Neutralize GOP Debt Ceiling Threat 

Interview with Robert C. Hockett, Edward Cornell professor of law at Cornell Law School, conducted by Scott Harris

When Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives last November, it was a given that the extremist wing of the GOP would once again try to hold the U.S. economy hostage by refusing to raise the federal debt limit, as they did under President Obama in 2011.

Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is demanding that in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, President Biden and the Democrats must give in to their demands to slash federal spending to fiscal year 2022 levels, cutting $131 billion from current spending, as well as imposing severe cuts totaling $3.6 trillion over the next 10 years. The GOP is also demanding the imposition of new work requirements on low-income Americans in order to receive government benefits, specifically food stamps and Medicaid.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned again on May 16 that “time is running out” for Congress to lift the debt ceiling and avert a default on the nation’s debt, which the secretary says would be catastrophic for the economy. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Robert C. Hockett, Edward Cornell professor of law at Cornell University, who discusses his view that President Biden should invoke the 14th Amendment to neutralize the Republican party’s threat to block legislation to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

ROBERT C. HOCKETT: What I’ve been arguing and a number of others have argued as well, is that basically Congress should simply recognize that the debt ceiling is sort of no longer a thing and repeal it.

And if they don’t do that, then President Biden and other members of Congress who are sane should simply ignore it and then let the sort of rump faction of highly conservative Jim Crow Republicans who are once again wielding it as a sort of hostage — put it on them. Put the onus on them to try to challenge the president and the rest of Congress, including the Senate in court.

My guess is that the court might not even take the case. It might not be considered justiciable. It might be, in other words, what the court calls a political question, in which case nothing happens at all. Or if the Supreme Court does end up taking that case, they will without a doubt, strike the debt ceiling, the 1917 law altogether, recognizing it as all the rest of us do, as having been superseded by the 1974 act.

SCOTT HARRIS: Professor Hockett, what in your view, are the consequences if Joe Biden caves in? What happens to the country if he negotiates with the Republicans and negotiates something like harsher work requirements for working families receiving federal aid, which which has already been talked about, as I heard in recent reports.

ROBERT C. HOCKETT: So, first of all, of course, he’ll be rewarding fiscal terrorism. He’ll be rewarding fiscal hostage taking. And as we all know, that just tends to encourage more of the same. Indeed, the current crop of Republicans are probably doing this precisely because President Obama caved in 2011 at a time when Joe Biden was vice president.

Now, the vice president then and the president now is often said to have learned the lesson of that rather sort of unfortunate caving or capitulation by President Obama in 2011, which is precisely why he’s been saying this time that he’s not willing to negotiate.

So the first thing again then that you would see would be, I think, continued and further hostage-taking going forward, including by next November or so, since they’re talking about only raising the ceiling for a few months.

The second thing you would see is basically the sucking out of all of the life from the Biden agenda. Right? All of the accomplishments that the Biden administration has indeed made with the help, of course, of Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, at least when you include the vice president in the Senate.

All of those accomplishments would be undercut and indeed, many of them would be lost. And what you would see, I think, then, is essentially an economy thrown into recession. And that, of course, would then result in tremendous macroeconomic doldrums of just the worst sort. Meaning then that going into 2024, Biden’s prospects of being re-elected would be very slim indeed.

And all signs are that with the alternative to Biden’s becoming or being re-elected in 2024 would be a return of the dictator Donald Trump, with a vengeance. And, you know, if we think that the first Trump term was was dreadful, you can only imagine, right, what the second term might be like. So I think it would be very ill-advised for Mr. Biden, both personally and for the nation to capitulate in any way on this, particularly given the fact that again, this is ultimately a bluff by McCarthy and the rump Republicans, who is in effect being held himself hostage by.

Because if the first of all, the Supreme Court probably wouldn’t enforce any attempt by the Republicans to force Biden to violate his own office by defaulting on the national debt in the first place. And if they did, they would, without a doubt, strike the debt ceiling.

So, again, I’ve been urging that Biden call the bluff of the Republicans and simply ignore the debt ceiling, say it’s not a thing, say it was sidelined by the 1974 legislation, that it’s not really, you know, that effectively this sort of AR-15 that these rump Republicans are trying to sort of wield against the U.S. fiscal state is effectively just a children’s toy, a sort of a cap gun or a water pistol at worst.

Listen to Scott Harris’ in-depth interview with Robert C. Hockett (21:18) and see more articles and opinion pieces in the Related Links section of this page.

For the best listening experience and to never miss an episode, subscribe to Between The Lines on your favorite podcast app or platform: Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcherGoogle PodcastsAmazon MusicTunein + AlexaCastboxOvercastPodfriendiHeartRadioCastroPocket Casts,  RSS Feed.


Subscribe to our Weekly Summary