(The Center Square) – A coalition of 19 attorneys general signed a letter urging President Joe Biden not to expand his executive powers to raise or ignore the debt ceiling without congressional approval.
Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti led the group and was prompted by Biden's statements on his assertion the executive branch has authority under the 14th Amendment to bypass Congress.
“Our constitutional system may be frustrating at times, but it is the fundamental guarantor of American liberty, and we must all abide by the oaths we swore to defend it,” the letter states. “The Constitution very deliberately invests the power of the purse in Congress. That power includes the authority to tax, the authority to spend, and, explicitly, the authority to borrow money on the credit of the United States.”
Biden and Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy and their staffs have been in negotiations to reach an agreement to raise the nation's debt ceiling and prevent the U.S. government from defaulting on its debt obligations. Earlier this week, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrote to McCarthy and warned that the Treasury may be unable to pay its bills as early as June 1. Business and consumer confidence would also be influenced by not increasing the debt limit.
“The Constitution is clear that only Congress has the power to authorize an increase in the national debt,” Skrmetti said in a statement. “The separation of powers in our constitutional system may be frustrating sometimes, but the checks and balances it creates are the heart of American liberty. If we start taking illegal shortcuts, no matter how compelling the justification, we put our whole system at risk.”
Republican Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey was one of the attorneys general who signed the letter and called Biden's possible actions political.
“President Biden is yet again ignoring the blatant framework of our Constitution, which is the very bedrock of our nation, to satisfy his political agenda,” Bailey said in a statement. “If not for the states, the federal government would run roughshod over our nation's system of checks and balances. I will not stand by and allow the integrity of our nation to be eroded by a President who has no respect for the Constitution.”
The letter expressed a belief that Biden and legislators will reach a solution but warned of legal ramifications if Congress is bypassed.
“We have faith that you and our federal legislators will find a solution and resolve the immediate problem,” the letter stated. “But should your administration attempt an authoritarian end-run around the separation of powers, we will not hesitate to use the legal tools at our disposal to defend the integrity of our constitutional system.”
In addition to Tennessee and Missouri, the letter was signed by the top law enforcement officials from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia.