I've been reading a lot lately about some discussion that President Obama could invoke the 14th Amendment as a basis to unilaterally disregard the debt ceiling and continue deficit-spending:
If Congress is unable to agree on a plan to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, Obama will have to decide which government bills to pay and which not to pay — or to simply ignore Congress, pay all the bills and simply raise the debt ceiling on his own.
"I would say it's legally treacherous no matter what he does," said Peter Shane, an Ohio State law professor.
Obama and his aides say he lacks the constitutional power to raise the debt limit, but that hasn't stopped a rising number of Democratic lawmakers and legal analysts from pushing him to change his mind.
Obama can cite the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which says "the validity of the public debt … shall not be questioned," said Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C.
Perspective here is important. Here's the actual text of the relevant part of the 14th Amendment, including the parts conveniently omitted by Clyburn:
The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
The important word phrasing here is "validity" and "shall not be questioned." What the plain, black-letter text of the Constitutionally requires is simply an acknowledgment that the debt accrued by law by the federal government is, in fact, the federal government's. (Hence, the Union must pay the debts it accrued to fight the Civil War, but it need not assume the debts of the defeated Confederate states).
Nothing in the text of the amendment requires repayment; if not for a contrary Supreme Court decision dating from the 1950s or so, I wouldn't see why the government couldn't simply acknowledge the validity of its debt by repudiating it. But even if it did require repayment eventually, there is certainly nothing about it that requires the debt be repaid on time or without restructuring.
The issue is kind of a red herring, anyway: the debt is not at question here. Debt service is something like 20% of our annual tax revenues; even in the lowest-revenue months we can still make debt service payments with room to spare. It's everything else that's at question here, and it's in order to fund everything that isn't the debt that President Obama would be claiming to act on a provision that explicitly protects solely the debt.
Would he do this? At this point, I wouldn't put it past him. The man's gall is almost obscene.