Sussing out where exactly the administration stands on the “constitutional option” — that is, invoking the 14th Amendment and ignoring the debt ceiling — involves sorting out a lot of conflicting information. At Wednesday’s Twitter town hall, Obama said he doesn’t ”think we should even get to the constitutional issue,” which sounds like ruling it out, but, as Matt Zeitlin noted, he actually doesn’t give an answer one way or another. Yesterday, Reuters reported that the Treasury Department was looking at the constitutional option as a plan B, only for the New York Times to follow up this morning with a report saying Secretary Tim Geithner thinks it’s illegal continuing to issue debt without a raise in the ceiling.
But even this isn’t a final answer. As Bruce Bartlett argued in The Post this morning, a failure to raise the debt ceiling will force the administration to do something that breaks the law. If it ignores the debt limit, it’ll be violating that law. If it prioritizes some spending — such as debt payments, so as to avoid default — over others, it will be violating the laws authorizing the spending it’s ignoring. The issue is that the current debt limit and the current spending laws of the United States are in conflict, and it’s the responsibility of Congress to make them consistent. If Congress fails in that duty, Obama really has no choice but to ignore one law or the other. Especially given this morning’s catastrophic jobs report, unilaterally cutting some spending seems like a much worse option than continuing to issue debt without an increase in the ceiling.