Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe asserted in a recent New York Times op-ed that President Barack Obama cannot invoke a Constitutional clause to borrow money if Congress does not raise the debt ceiling.
Tribe, who once taught Obama, wrote that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and others have proposed that if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling, it will violate section 4 of the 14th amendment, which states the "validity" of the country's debt "shall not be questioned." President Obama might therefore be able to borrow money in the interest of maintaining the Constitutionally mandated "validity" of the debt regardless of whether the legislative branch grants permission.
But Tribe said the Constitution explicitly and exclusively assigns Congress the right to borrow money on the country's credit, and there is no provision allowing the president to usurp the legislature's powers, even to prevent constitutional violations.
George Madison, general counsel of the Treasury Department, responded quickly to Tribe's column, stating in a letter to the editor of the Times that Geithner understands only Congress can borrow, and Tribe mischaracterized his position.