You read that correctly. Even though roughly three days remain before a first ever U.S. default, President Obama must now unilaterally invoke the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling on his own--and without Congressional approval. The idea of using the 14th Amendment is not new. Others, including former President Bill Clinton, have advocated this approach. The argument is two-fold. Textually, the Clause 4 of the 14th Amendment says that "the validity of the public debt … shall not be questioned." Practically, as law Profs. Posner and Vermeule point out, "[t]he president has the power during crises to take actions that are necessary to protect the country."
Under either argument, one central truth remains: the current self-inflicted crisis will be averted. However, we are now only days away from a catastrophe that has significantly decreased the confidence of global investors in our economy and governing ability. For that reason, President Obama has the obligation to act alone. If President Obama bypasses Congress on this issue, he will provide a signal to investors and other nations that, regardless of future spending fights, the United States has a fail-safe mechanism to ensure that it meets its bills on time: the Constitution.
There will, of course, be external risks associated with this approach--i.e., the courts could get involved, and reject the administration's arguments. However, as many legal commentators opine, the judiciary is unlikely to inject itself into this hyper-political battle. I find it hard to believe that a judge would want the threat of a national default hanging on his or her personal interpretation of the Constitution. Restoring confidence is absolutely imperative in light of the way this crisis has played out. The only way to do that now is to provide the world with an indication that the United States will never default on its obligations.