Democratic Leaders Say 14th Amendment Should Be A Failsafe To Prevent A National Default
WASHINGTON – House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (CT), Assistant Democratic Leader John Clyburn (SC), and Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (CA) held a press availability immediately after the Democratic Caucus meeting today on the Debt Limit negotiations, where they called on President Obama to use the 14th Amendment as a failsafe to prevent a national default if Congressional Republicans continue to refuse to negotiate a balanced solution. Below is the transcript and video:
Caucus Chairman Larson: This morning I am pleased to be joined by our distinguished Caucus leader, Jim Clyburn, and our Vice Chair, Xavier Becerra.
More than 200 days have gone by and still the number one concern in our Caucus is the lack of jobs. Again, it’s our intent throughout the break, if there is one, that we will be going back home in our districts and talking about the need for jobs and the lack of a jobs agenda that has emanated from the halls of this Congress by our colleagues across the way.
Carolyn Maloney of our Caucus made an interesting statement the other day. She was reflecting on the process that we have begun to call Groundhog Day now here in our Caucus. We keep repeating the same thing over, and over, and over again. And we’ve seen this show before.
We can go back to 2008 when the Republican caucus then went against their own Fed Chief and against their own President and reneged on a deal. They – and Jim is imminently aware of the deal that was being constructed by him and Chris Van Hollen that Eric Cantor walked away from the Vice President. And then they walked away from Senator McConnell who had laid out an alternative plan along with a reluctant Harry Reid but in a process to move the nation forward and take us away from this economic disaster. They walked out on that deal. Then they walked out on a bipartisan deal that was put forward between Democrats and Republicans in the House. They walked away from that apparently because they’ve all taken a pledge to Grover Norquist and not – well I thought we took a pledge to the flag under the pledge of allegiance to the country. But nonetheless, they walked out on that relationship. They then further – John Boehner walked away from the President’s proposal. And now we find, low and behold, this week that the Republicans have walked away from even John Boehner’s proposal.
So, as we sit here, frustrated, wanting to move forward, our Caucus continues to think that perhaps the best thing to do is put a clean vote up there and take this cup away from the American people. They are pushing the American people – this is not just about the global economy, nor is about just our national economy, as important as that is, this is about household economies. This is about 401K’s becoming 101K’s.
Increasingly, we’re getting calls to our office saying, what should I do with my money” What’s going on? How serious is this event? What do we need to do? And during our Caucus one of the great wise-heads of our Caucus stood up and said, ‘I’ll tell you what we need to do. We need to have the President look at all of these options.’ And with that, I’ll call on our leader, Jim Clyburn, to explain what he said to our Caucus.
Assistant Democratic Leader Clyburn: Thank you very much Mr. Chairman, Mr. Vice Chair.
I think all of us are quite aware that the American people are now tuned in, big time as we say, to this issue. And they are very, very concerned about whether or not their retirement checks are going to continue to flow and hold their value. They’re concerned as to whether or not their children are going to be in positions to continue the pursuit of their education. They’re concerned about the mortgages they hold on their homes and whether or not what we’re doing here threatens the validity of those transactions.
And so, I have said to my Caucus and I’ve said to others, that anything short of a long term raising of the debt ceiling, something that gets us through the next election, something that will bring stability to our communities as well as to Wall Street. Anything less than that – and I’m hearing this morning about a 30 day extension, some say a six month extension of the debt ceiling – I don’t think that will do what needs to be done for the American people and for this great economy of ours.
And so I would say to the President, that if that’s what lands on his desk – a short term lifting of the ceiling – of the debt ceiling. He should put it on his desk next to an executive order that he will have drawn up. And with the same pen that he vetoes that short term debt ceiling extension, he should sign an executive order invoking the fourteenth amendment to this issue. I am convinced that whatever discussions about the legality of that can continue but I believe that something like this will bring calm to the American people, and will bring needed stability to our financial markets.
So, I think that that’s the position we’re in, and I know his reluctance to do that, but I will remind you in closing that back in our history—back in the 1940’s, a great debate was raging in this country as to whether or not in made sense to integrate the armed services—congress wouldn’t do it. President Truman did so by executive order, and that executive order still holds today—and if we can do something as big as bringing stability to our security, as we did with armed services, we can do something big now—and so I would say to the President that short term extension ought to be out, he should veto it if it comes to him, and with the same pen, sign an executive order invoking the fourteenth amendment.
With that, I give it to the Vice-Chair.
Caucus Vice-Chairman Becerra: I think a very clear message should be issued to Speaker John Boehner: Mr. Speaker, House Republicans have failed to govern, failure is not an option for our country, and therefore you leave it to the President to take whatever action is within his power, by his right under the constitution to move this country forward and make sure Americans do not suffer the consequences of your failure.
George Washington did not let a winter’s cold deny the people of the colonies the chance to be the United States of America. Abraham Lincoln didn’t allow the intransigence of a people from keeping this country together. John Kennedy didn’t stop the threat of nuclear war from keeping this country safe, and Barack Obama should not allow an economic crisis caused by the contrivance of House Republicans through their intransigence to vote to do what they did for George Bush, and for Ronald Reagan—keep the American people from being able to pay their mortgage, send their kids to college, keep their retirement accounts at full value, and keep the dollar at it’s true value—and that’s what’s at stake, at the end of the day should Americans find that they are paying a higher mortgage because of the contrivance of Republicans on this issue of the default crisis. Should Americans find that their retirement accounts drop as they saw them drop three years ago during the Wall Street meltdown, drop again because of the contrivance of Republicans on this default crisis—and should Americans deprive their children of going to college because they can’t borrow the money to send them to a good school because of the contrivance of Republicans in this default crisis.
Mr. President, other presidents have taken the lead, we believe that Republicans, through their failures here, give you very little option but to take the lead, and we hope that Republicans will understand that the American people are telling them you’re not handling this the right way, and we need someone to step forward.
Caucus Chairman Larson: Thank you Xavier and I will just sum up by saying I think the most poignant thing that has been said to me during this whole discussion is a woman from my district who said: “What is it that people in Washington D.C. don’t understand, that we are being pushed up against the dark abyss of uncertainty as it relates to our livelihood, our jobs, our future.”
A small group in Washington, however newly arrived, and however full of themselves at this point, cannot lead this nation over a cliff—that cannot happen—and so we have to take the kind of action that will be required to keep the American people secure that we are not being governed week to week like a third world nation, but in fact the preeminent economic, cultural, and social leader of the world has got to act like it is, and that’s what requires action. No more walking away, no more of pulling out, get the job done and get America back to work is what the public wants to see.
We’ll take questions.
Reporter: Congressman, would your Caucus support a short term increase like the McConnell package that you’ve been calling for that mixes taxes and spending cuts—would that be something that you would support?
Caucus Chairman Larson: I think that the dark cloud of uncertainty with the debt ceiling only being still hanging over everyone’s head, what our Caucus is adamantly clear on – and you heard Jim Clyburn say this, and what we’re recommending to the President – if, by chance, the Republicans come up with the votes on their own, and there is a short term deal that goes to the President’s desk, he said he’ll veto that. I know you all have great, grave concern about that because of the ramifications of what it means for the United States for the first time ever in its history to default on its full faith in credit, which is why Jim Clyburn articulated to the applause of our Caucus that the President ought to have his pen right next to it to sign into effect, invoke the 14th Amendment and make sure that debt is taken care of.
Reporter: Would you take a short term increase if it was clean?
Caucus Chairman Larson: We’d have to see what it looked like, but not if it continues to postpone or put the debt off. How does that do anything for certainty in the economy? That we’re going to take this up in 30 days, 90 days, you know, 120 days. What does it do to the markets? What does it do to people’s uncertainty? What does it do to job creation? If it’s – you know we keep on repeating Groundhog Day. That we go back and convene in meetings, some people walk away, and they can’t get a – reach a decision. It’s time to act.
Reporter: The White House has been adamant that they won’t invoke the 14th Amendment. What makes you think they would change their minds?
Caucus Chairman Larson: Because this is the Administration of hope. You asked me what gives me hope. Well I think – I’ll let Jim and Xavier speak – but I think as the Leader indicated we’re getting down to decision time. We don’t know what the other side is going to do. They’ve walked away from everything including their own leaders’ proposals. So yes, we would prefer a clean vote – a clean debt ceiling vote. Put that aside so that we can get back to the work of putting America back to work, focus on our deficit, focus on the job creation that we need to have, and move the country forward. That’s what we prefer. We don’t know whether or not that will happen. We don’t know whether or not there will be a clean vote. But if something passes and is on his desk, we do know that he can have this. Now he has taken, as you heard Jim say, a position on this already, but circumstances could change. We just want to let him know that his Caucus is prepared to stand behind him.
Reporter: Do you think that is a more viable action than Senator Reid’s plan?
Caucus Chairman Larson: Not necessarily. But will Senator Reid’s plan come over here? We got to keep as many options as we can, Deidre. We hope that – that you know, listen – will Boehner’s plan succeed? Do any of you know? We don’t – we certainly don’t know. And if Boehner’s plan doesn’t succeed, it’s assumed that this will give Harry Reid the opportunity to send a plan over here because there are not many alternatives. And a Harry Reid plan would probably pass here with more than 180 Democrat votes to go to the President.
Caucus Vice-Chairman Becerra: When the President says he’s not interested in invoking the 14th Amendment, I think the President’s saying I’m not interested in being the first in the history of this country of doing something that has not been tested.
Clearly, the 14th Amendment says that our debts are vowed and therefore we live – we will live and follow through with paying – we will honor them, we will pay them.
The Republicans have taken us into the twilight zone. We’ve never been here before, and just as – I don’t believe George Bush wanted to ask the Congress and the American public to bail out Wall Street, we needed to do something to deal with a catastrophe that was going to hit so hard on the average American family. And so did the President believe that the Republicans would take us into the twilight zone a week away from D-Day? I don’t think so. If we get to D-Day, will any president have ever experienced what Barack Obama sitting in the White House will be experiencing? No. Just as no one will experience what Lincoln did, or what Washington did, or Roosevelt – they have to make the call, and I believe what we’re saying to the President is don’t let a manufactured crisis by House Republicans drive us deeper into the twilight zone when we can walk out of the twilight zone.
Warren Buffet will walk out of the twilight zone, but the average American family will not walk out clean from this twilight zone. And so the President will do just as the President took out Osama bin Laden in a way some presidents wouldn’t have done it. He’s going to have to do something, and we’re saying to him Mr. President, the Republicans through their failure have given you license to do whatever it takes to not let the American family go down into that abyss with House Republicans.
Caucus Chairman Larson: In short, he will not allow the Republicans to hold the American people hostage. Which is what they’re doing.
Reporter: To be clear, did you say that the—a majority of House Democrats would support the Reid Plan, a plan that contains no new revenues and trillions of dollars in cuts?
Caucus Chairman Larson: Yes.
Reporter: So does that mean that—that you’re giving up on the—on the balanced approach in favor of extending the deadline?
Caucus Chairman Larson: No, no, no, whoa, whoa. You know—that’s like—this is like déjà vu all over again.
Ok let’s go back and start where we were, what we’re for, ok? We were for, and agreed, that the big approach probably was the best approach and would get the greatest number of Democratic votes, ok? Those negotiations they walked away from. Every single subsequent phase of any negotiation, between Republican leaders, nonpartisan, between Republicans and Democrats, even within their own caucus, they have walked away with. We are in the minority. We are faced with very few alternatives. What we said is given the alternatives of a Boehner plan or a Reid plan, we would vote for the Reid plan. Now not all Democrats may vote for the Reid plan but a vast majority of Democrats would vote for the Reid plan.
Assistant Democratic Leader Clyburn: Let me say something about the Reid plan. I think, I think, we are neglecting to deal with the fact that we as Democrats believe that politics is the art of the possible. It is all about compromise. And the Reid plan is a big compromise. Yes, the Reid plan takes revenue off of the table. The Reid plan also takes entitlements off of the table. Neither one of those--we were big on entitlements, they were big on revenues--all that washes away. What it does do is provide for about $2.4 or $5 trillion in cuts and remember, as a member of the Biden group, he takes those cuts that we discuss, and put those into his plan. And so, he also provides for a twelve member commission—to study debt relief as well as deficit reduction going forward, so all of that’s in the Reid plan and that’s what we said we agreed to so I—it’s a long term extension and that’s where we are.
Reporter: Have you had other conversations with the White House to try to encourage him to go in that direction?
Assistant Democratic Leader Clyburn: I speak with the White House often.
Reporter: Have you spoken with them today?
Assistant Democratic Leader Clyburn: I have not spoken to them today.
Reporter: Do you plan to tell them they have the support of the Caucus?
Assistant Democratic Leader Clyburn: I don’t know if—I guess they keep up with us.
Caucus Chairman Larson: They’re in our Caucus, they have representatives there all the time so I’m sure they’re very much aware of not only what Jim had to say but the way it was received. And the Leader was in the room as well and heard very clearly what he had to say. She also said look, the President has been very clear that he would not like to go this option, where he’s--and he has been very clear about that.
What we’re saying is if a small group is really that intent on destroying government and is intent on saying that they don’t believe there is any ramifications for their irresponsibility then we have to have a failsafe mechanism. We believe that fail safe mechanism is the Fourteenth Amendment and the President of the United States.
Reporter: Would you rather have the Reid plan or would you rather have him—
Caucus Chairman Larson: We’d rather have everyone coming together and focus on a clean bill, and get on with creating jobs. That’s what we think needs to be done.
Reporter: How many Democrats have voted for the Boehner plan?
Caucus Chairman Larson: The Boehner Plan? Well we—the better question would be how many Republicans does he have? They haven’t been able to put their own people together and so—I don’t think, given what Jim Clyburn already said, with the assault on Medicare and Social Security, with the drastic cuts they’ll be doing with no balance or revenues in it – very little votes will be there. I know it’s all cloaked as a balanced amendment but even the CBO and others that have looked at it have says it doesn’t even really do that.