President Obama Rejects Authority to Violate Debt Ceiling

At the tail end of an NYT story there is a bit of news for those interested in the debate over the constitutionality of the debt ceiling and whether the President could issue debt unilaterally if the ceiling is not raised. President Obama addressed the question at a town hall meeting at the University of Maryland this morning:

Mr. Obama for the first time addressed — and ruled out — the idea that the Constitution empowers a president to increase the debt limit to prevent default and, as he put it, “basically ignore” the federal law requiring that the debt ceiling be set by statute. The argument of “the constitutional option,” which President Bill Clinton — like Mr. Obama a former constitutional law instructor — endorsed in an interview this week, is based on the 14th Amendment’s provision that the validity of the United States debt “shall not be questioned.”

“I have talked to my lawyers,” Mr. Obama said, and “they are not persuaded that that is a winning argument.”

Steve Benen thinks this still leaves the President some wiggle room; I’m skeptical.

In a related item, Jack Balkin explained here why former President Bill Clinton said he’d assert the authority to violate the debt ceiling, but Obama won’t. Also, here’s Laurence Tribe’s latest, responding to this post from Neil Buchanan.

UPDATE: Balkin has more here.