House Democrats want President Obama to take a new approach to Republican resistance over raising the debt ceiling -- by simply ignoring it.
More than 20 Democratic members of Congress have signed onto a letter urging the president use an obscure constitutional provision to attempt to circumvent any resistance in Congress to raising the debt ceiling. They claim the 14th Amendment, which contains a section stating that "the validity of the public debt of the United States...shall not be questioned," would allow Obama to raise the debt limit by himself.
"In the event (Republicans) follow through on this reckless threat, we would support your use of the 14th Amendment to preserve America's full faith and credit and prevent further damage to our economy," the lawmakers, led by Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont, wrote in the letter.
The Democrats said they support Obama's view that Congress should not use the debt ceiling as leverage to extract other concessions out of the administration. In the summer of 2011, Republicans used the debt ceiling to extract spending cuts -- they are vowing to do the same early this year.
"Threatening default on our nation's debt is an economic weapon of mass destruction that will have immediate and catastrophic consequences for the economy as well as America's standing in the world," the Democratic lawmakers wrote.
But in the wake of the fiscal crisis negotiations, Republicans see the debt ceiling as their next best chance for achieving significant spending cuts. A House GOP leadership aide, in reaction to the new letter, said: "Democrats refuse to responsibly address our spending problem, and rather than offer solutions, they choose to abdicate their responsibility."
Recently, Democrats have also floated the idea that the treasury secretary could potentially mint a platinum coin worth $1 trillion -- or some other amount -- with which to pay U.S. debts until the debt ceiling is lifted. Critics have dismissed the idea as absurd.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, asked Wednesday about these alternative ideas, said "there is no backup plan." Carney, though, did not explicitly rule out any of them.
The $16.4 trillion borrowing limit has technically been reached and by late February or early March the Treasury Department will run out of ways to cover debts and could begin defaulting on government loans.
There is no legal precedent for applying the 14th Amendment to circumvent a congressional vote and such an action would be certain to result in legal challenges.
Welch, in an interview, told The Associated Press said he understood that the president might not want to embrace the 14th Amendment alternative at this point, when it might appear to be a power grab. But "if there is the ultimate act of congressional irresponsibility by having the United States default on its obligations, we encourage the president to rescue the country." He said ultimately the courts would have to decide what authority the amendment confers on the president.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.