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Dems urge Obama to raise debt limit without Congress, if necessary


Senate Democratic leaders urged President Barack Obama to act to increase the nation's debt limit, even without congressional approval, in order to avoid a standoff with Republicans over the nation's borrowing authority.

The top four Democrats wrote Obama on Friday to urge him against allowing the debt ceiling becoming a bargaining chip with Republicans, who might threaten to vote against any increase in the debt limit without new spending cuts or entitlement reforms from the administration.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and three other Democrats wrote:

In the event that Republicans make good on their threat by failing to act, or by moving unilaterally to pass a debt limit extension only as part of unbalanced or unreasonable legislation, we believe you must be willing to take any lawful steps to ensure that America does not break its promises and trigger a global economic crisis -- without Congressional approval, if necessary.  

The White House has been loath to assert the type of broad executive privileges that would allow the president to unilaterally increase the amount of money the government is able to borrow in order to cover its obligations. Traditionally, approval of an increase in the debt ceiling has been the province of Congress.

Insisting that America is not a "deadbeat nation," President Obama demanded Congress authorize the U.S. to pay its bills lest the country default on its debts. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

But the 2011 fight over increasing the debt limit almost produced a default. Obama's agreement with Republicans at that time produced the spending cuts that make up the recent "fiscal cliff," which the president and lawmakers didn't fully solve. Obama warned after reaching an agreement with Republicans on taxes earlier this month that he wouldn't bargain over the debt limit, but some GOP lawmakers have begun to speak more openly about using that moment as a point of leverage.

It's not clear what authority Obama would invoke to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling. Popular theories argue he could invoke the 14th Amendment (which says the "validity of the public debt of the U.S. ... shall not be questioned"), invoke an obscure provision allowing the government to mint a $1 trillion coin to pay for the debt, or even issue I.O.U.s.

"We support your view that an extension of the debt limit is not something for which Democrats should have to negotiate," the Democratic leaders wrote. "At the same time, as a separate matter, we agree about the importance of developing a broad, bipartisan agreement on fiscal policy that strengthens our economy and reduces our long-term budget deficit."