After initially pooh-poohing progressives’ push to use the 14th Amendment to go past the debt ceiling, President Joe Biden said on Sunday that he believes he has “the authority” to use it—although he’s not sure the ensuing legal challenge would resolve itself before the United States defaulted on its debt. “The question is,” he told reporters at a press conference at the Group of 7 summit in Japan, “could it be done and invoked in time?”
According to Treasury Department officials, it’s only a matter of weeks before the federal government can’t pay its bills on time, leading to a default. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Sunday that early June is the “hard deadline” for the debt ceiling—potentially as soon as June 1. As Republicans drew lines in the sand on things like cutting domestic public spending and adding work requirements for government assistance programs, frustrated progressives have tried to push Biden to consider using the 14th Amendment to avoid capitulating to the right’s demands and keep borrowing past the debt limit.
Work requirements frequently create gaps in government welfare programs by helping lock people into a cycle of poverty. People find themselves out of work and needing assistance, are unable to get it, and lack the stability they need to get their next job. Studies show that work requirements don’t increase employment either, suggesting that people don’t have jobs because they might not simply be available, not because they’re lazy. The added administrative work in any requirements adds practice hurdles for struggling people who are already short on time, which writer Annie Lowry has called the “time tax.” Poor children are often collateral damage in these requirements.
Many progressive lawmakers see the 14th Amendment as a way around these issues. Biden had signaled that he would be open to this but on Friday, Politico reported that the Biden administration had been communicating that it had deep reservations about pursuing the constitutional route. However, based on his comments in Japan, he may be warming to it again.
“It’s time for Republicans to accept that there is no bipartisan deal to be made solely—solely—on their partisan terms,” Biden said in Hiroshima. “They have to move, as well.”
The Washington Post reported that, when asked what would happen if the United States were to default on its national debt, the president shook his head and walked away.