From “How Obama Can Prevent Another Debt-Ceiling Crisis,” Jack M. Balkin (Yale Law School Professor), the Atlantic:
“Obama’s correct — and constitutional — response to Republican intransigence is the same as Bill Clinton’s before him: a replay of the 1995 government shutdown. If Republicans force that confrontation, they will lose, just as they did before.
“Section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that ‘the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, … shall not be questioned.’ Its purpose was to prevent Southern Congressmen and Senators from trying to hold payment of the nation’s debts hostage in order to get their way on Reconstruction policies. The point of Section 4 was to put this sort of hostage-taking beyond ordinary politics. The framers of the 14th Amendment did not want future politicians to threaten to destroy the country’s finances by refusing to pay the country’s debts in order to win political concessions from their opponents. After all, once politicians did so successfully, they would try it over and over again and it would become a normal feature of politics. This is precisely what we are seeing now.
“If Congressional Republicans are threatening to let the nation default on its debts if Obama doesn’t agree to their demands, they are violating the Constitution.
“[U]nder section 4 of the Fourteenth Amendment the president has an independent constitutional obligation not to allow the validity of the debt of the United States to be put into question. That means, at the very least, that the president must make sure that interest payments continue on existing federal bonds and similar obligations.
“If the president follows his constitutional obligations, then some government operations will not get funded because payments to the bondholders must come first. That means a partial government shutdown, with more and more of the government closed as the president continues to pay the bondholders.
“We’ve seen this movie before. Once government offices close and government checks aren’t issued, the public will complain loudly, the markets will tumble, and Congress will eventually have to give in, just as it did in the winter of 1995. The public will rightly conclude that Congress is to blame, because it was Congress, and not the president, who tried to hold the nation’s economy hostage.
“The president’s obligation to pay the bondholders first…is how the Fourteenth Amendment helps the president resolve any debt ceiling crisis. All he has to do is follow the Constitution and he will come out on top.” Emphasis added.
Maybe when the Republicans hit their heads on the ceiling, it will finally knock some sense into them.