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Democratic lawmakers are skeptical about using a $1 trillion coin or the 14th amendment to get around the debt ceiling

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia at the US Capitol in June 2021.
Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia at the US Capitol in June 2021.
  • Congress still hasn't come to an agreement to raise the debt ceiling with a default expected as soon as early June.
  • Minting a $1 trillion platinum coin or using the 14th amendment could solve the crisis while sidestepping Congress.
  • But Democrats Insider spoke to are skeptical of taking either of those routes.

Congress still can't agree on a solution to save the country from a catastrophic default that could happen in less than a month, but there are some paths to avoid that outcome — and avoid the congressional drama that comes with it.

But Democrats aren't so sure a debt ceiling solution is viable outside of Congress.

Since January, both parties have been sparring over the best approach to raise the debt ceiling and ensure the US can pay its bills before the country defaults, which Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said could happen as early as June 1.

While Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy recently passed a bill that would raise the debt ceiling through March 2024, it was accompanied by over $4.5 trillion in spending cuts. President Joe Biden and Democrats have been adamant that raising the debt ceiling should be a bipartisan and clean increase, with no cuts attached, and Biden vowed to veto McCarthy's bill should it make it to his desk.

Biden even met with McCarthy and other top congressional leaders on Monday to discuss raising the debt ceiling, but McCarthy emerged from the meeting telling reporters that there was not "any new movement" on the issue.

This means that there is a severe time crunch for Congress to come to an agreement in the next few weeks, or else the country will hurdle into an unprecedented and devastating default. But Congress isn't necessarily required to avoid that outcome. 

As Insider has previously reported, there are a few options on the table to get around the debt ceiling crisis, like minting a $1 trillion platinum coin or invoking a clause in the 14th amendment. The coin takes an advantage of an obscure law that would allow the Treasury to deposit a platinum coin of any denomination into the Federal Reserve, allowing the country to effectively pay its debts. The 14th amendment, on the other hand, contains a clause that could declare the debt ceiling unconstitutional and get rid of it forever.

With a default inching closer by the day, those two options have been increasingly floated among lawmakers — but some of them aren't so sure they would solve the problem.

'That's beyond my paygrade and my mental capacity'

Insider asked some Democratic senators what they thought of minting a coin or using the 14th amendment to get around the debt ceiling crisis. None of them were thrilled with the ideas.

"It would be better if Congress did the job and didn't make the president try something that hasn't been done before," Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine said of the 14th amendment. "I've heard legal arguments on both sides, but the right answer is for Congress just to live up to its responsibilities."

Sen. Ron Wyden, top lawmaker on the Senate Finance Committee, said that when it comes to the 14th amendment, "I'm not there yet. Clearly, it keeps coming at us with the prospect of default." 

Minting a coin had an even less enthusiastic response. On going that route, Kaine said that he "would not recommend it and I have never heard that he's considered it," referring to Biden. Montana Sen. Jon Tester also told reporters last week that considering the platinum coin is "beyond my paygrade and my mental capacity to figure out how we can make a coin that gets us beyond this, but what the hell."

Overall consensus: Congress should do its job

The Democrats Insider spoke to broadly seemed to believe that raising the debt ceiling and avoiding a default has been, and should continue to be, Congress' job.

"I think we should do our job," Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy told Insider. "I think we should not default on our debt. Congress should do the job that we've, without exception up until this point, done." 

Biden and Yellen have also expressed concerns with a debt ceiling solution that does not involve Congress. After meeting with lawmakers on Tuesday to discuss the issue, Biden told reporters that he has been "considering" the 14th amendment to get around the debt ceiling, "but the problem is it would have to be litigated."

He added that he doesn't think the 14th amendment "solves our problem now. I think that only solves your problem once the court has ruled that it does apply for future endeavors."

Yellen also said at a new conference in Japan on Wednesday that "it's legally questionable whether or not that's a viable strategy," referring to the 14th amendment. Even McCarthy opposed going that route, telling reporters on Tuesday that "if you're the leader of the free world, you're the only president, and you're going to go to the 14th amendment to look at something like that, I would think you're kind of a failure of working with people across the sides of the aisle or working with your own party to get something done."

Biden is set to meet with the top four congressional leaders again on Friday, and until then, Democrats are still maintaining that both sides of the aisle should come together to reach a solution.

"I think that default would be catastrophic for the US and the world economy and it is deeply irresponsible to threaten financial cataclysm as a legislative tactic," Georgia Sen. Jon Ossof told Insider.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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