After President Joe Biden said he would invoke the 14th Amendment if Congress did not agree to raise the debt ceiling, Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti led other state attorneys general from across the country in telling Biden that such an action would be unlawful.
“We, the undersigned chief legal officers of 19 states, write in response to your recent assertion that you have the authority to ignore federal law and raise the debt ceiling without congressional approval,” Skrmetti wrote in letter signed by 19 other state attorneys general. “You do not. Our constitutional system may be frustrating at times, but it is the fundamental guarantor of American liberty, and we must all abide by the oaths we swore to defend it.”
The letter continues:
The Fourteenth Amendment, meanwhile, confers no new authority with respect to those powers but instead states that “the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, . . . shall not be questioned.” The phrase “authorized by law” clearly refers back to Congress’s authority to borrow. No plausible reading of this passage infringes on the exclusive authority to borrow conferred to Congress by Article I.
The power of the purse constitutes Congress’s strongest defense against a lawless executive. By giving credence to the idea that a President can unilaterally authorize new debt for the United States, you undermine the checks and balances that have defined the rule of law for over 200 years.
Later in the letter, Skrmetti and his fellow attorneys general offer a sharp rebuke of Biden’s proposed plan.
“The idea of a previously hidden authority to ignore Congress’s power to borrow is, alongside the even more dubious idea of a trillion-dollar coin to avoid the debt ceiling, a type of magical thinking about the Constitution that undermines the legitimacy of our democratic processes,” the letter says. “These ideas deserve ridicule, not credibility. The more we as a people lend credence to the notion that the President can do whatever he wants without regard to the legislature, the more we risk an authoritarian plunge that will shatter our constitutional system and leave us with no legal defense against an arbitrary executive.”
Notably, the letter was also signed by attorneys general Ashley Moody of Florida, Kris Kobach of Kansas, Dave Yost of Ohio, and Ken Paxton of Texas, all Republicans.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board also tore into the Biden administration for its proposed use of executive action.
“What the 14th Amendment doesn’t allow is the claim by many progressives that the President can issue new debt without the consent of Congress,” the board said. “Merely because Congress has approved new spending doesn’t mean the President can issue new debt on his own authority to finance it. He can’t issue new debt on his own to finance Medicare, for example.”
The Biden administration has been battling with the Republican Congress, which argues that the United States has enough debt, and that raising the debt ceiling so the federal government can continue borrowing money, is unreasonable.
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Pete D’Abrosca is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. Follow Pete on Twitter.