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. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.
Section 4, Amendment 14, Constitution of United States of America
Section 4 of the post-civil war Amendment 14 or the reconstruction amendment of America’s Constitution has seldom been in the news until the recent debt ceiling debate.
At issue was if the Executive would be empowered to continue to borrow, in the event the Legislative branch fails to raise the borrowing limit, so as not to default on America’s payments to its own citizens and the rest of the world who hold US debt.
It is a question of economic management that the United States cannot pay all of its bills if it cannot borrow. It is a Constitutional question, however, not if the Executive should be empowered to continue to borrow bypassing the Congress but whether the Congress is permitted by the Constitution to default on US debt.
Amendment XIV does not allow the Congress to renege on US debt payments, thereby rendering the debt ceiling immune to political negotiations and posturing.
Congress can negotiate only the budget within itself and with the president. Shutting down the government as a part of such a negotiation process is Constitutional but defaulting on America’s debt is not.
President Obama was correct in his stance that he did not want to negotiate the debt ceiling with the Republicans.