ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Claiming the Fourteenth

Updated on July 19, 2011
Obama poses in front of the Superman Statue in downtown Metropolis, IL. 14 August 2006.
Obama poses in front of the Superman Statue in downtown Metropolis, IL. 14 August 2006. | Source

There is a pretty interesting strategy that has been floating around now for several months regarding hitting the debt ceiling limit that involves invoking a section of the fourteenth amendment.

Section 4. 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

So it goes like this: hitting the debt ceiling arrives without an agreement being reached in Congress, and Obama simply says, “so what” and just keeps on paying bills as he had done before. Can you imagine the audacity! How can he do this? Simple, he claims that the Fourteenth Amendment requires him to fulfill America’s debt obligations.

Can he do this? Yes. Is it actually legal? Well, that gets a little tricky. Some argue about what actually constitutes a debt versus an obligation, and say that promises of future payments aren’t debts. Personally, I tend to be a plain language kind of guy. If the government has enacted laws and policies which say they will pay a certain amount of money to certain individuals in the future, than that is a debt. Robert Levy of the Cato Institute, also argues this point: “duly enacted appropriations are legally the counterpart of ‘public debt ... authorized by law.’ ”1

There are also arguments that say we won’t actually default; we will still pay the important stuff (interest payments on existing debt), while the rest of our obligations we will still acknowledge exist, we just aren't going to pay them at the moment. One blogger characterizes this inability to pay as scheduled as a “crisis of liquidity”.2 But once again, using a plain language approach, does anyone for one second think they could use a “crisis of liquidity” excuse with someone they owed money? And note that the Fourteenth only says the validity of the debt should not be “questioned”. Does America not paying all of its bills make the validity of its debts questionable? I think so, and suspect most reasonable people would agree.

Some people will argue that, because these future payments are in the future that there are other ways of not defaulting on them—such as canceling them. That may be so, but still, until that actually happens, the President can continue to claim that he is obligated to sign any check that comes across his desk.

The beauty (or horror) of the strategy is that there isn’t really anything that can be done about it. The only possible solution would be to actually sue the President, for whom the only one with potential standing would be the whole of Congress.

Is this the right way to go about things? No, probably not, but at the same time it isn’t right for the Republicans to use the threat of forcing the country into default as a way of altering the debt obligations put into place by previous Congresses. That sort of tactic is EXACTLY the kind of thing this clause of the Fourteenth was intended to prevent. “It was stated in broad terms in order to prevent future majorities in Congress from repudiating the federal debt to gain political advantage, to seek political revenge, or to try to disavow previous financial obligations because of changed policy priorities.”3 That is the assessment of Professor Jack M. Balkin, from a historical examination of the Fourteenth Amendment, which he concludes by saying, "Section Four was placed in the Constitution to remove this weapon from ordinary politics." That is about as plain as it gets.

Still, using this tactic can’t be considered positive. Rather it could only be seen as the better of two bad options. All sorts of problems would arise from this: separation of power concerns, newly issued debt would be risky, a potential impeachment attempt, and worst of all perhaps is that it would not in any way guarantee the markets wouldn’t be spooked.


1. Levy, Robert A. "Defaults, Debt Ceilings and the 14th Amendment." Cato Institute, 07 jul 2011. Web. 18 Jul 2011. <>.

2. From a blog "Rhymes with Right".

3. Balkin, Jack M. "The Legislative History of Section Four of the Fourteenth Amendment." Balkanization. N.p., 30 jun 2011. Web. 19 Jul 2011. <>.


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Nurfninja profile image


      7 years ago from Earth

      That was fun to read sir. America will probably be good for a while though. Isn't it funny, politics?? Like you said it's "The beauty (or horror) of the strategy is that there isn’t really anything that can be done about it."

      Our economy will loop around and everything will be fine and dandy again soon.

    • frugalfamily profile image

      Brenda Trott, M.Ed 

      7 years ago from Houston, TX

      I always enjoy your hubs, but I'm often without words. I have never envied the presidential office. I'm glad to have someone who is decisive in office. Athough he can't win with any decision he makes, things would be a lot worse with someone who never made a decision or took any type of action.

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 

      7 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Great Hub Junkseller. You analyzed the pros and cons of this action very well. President Obama is probably keeping this possibility in his pocket if all else fails. You are right that the Republicans are holding him and the country hostage over this and that is very wrong. Still he is negotiating in good faith and I think a deal will be reached. He should use the 14th amendment option if all else fails because not paying on our debts would be catastrophic for our economy. Great Depression catastrophic.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)