Sen. Bernie Sanders and 10 other senators on Thursday ramped up their calls for President Joe Biden to strongly consider invoking his 14th Amendment authority to avert a debt default as the GOP continues to demand steep federal spending cuts and attacks on critical aid programs.
"It is unfortunate that Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate are not acting in good faith. Instead, Republicans have made it clear that they are prepared to hold our entire economy hostage unless you accede to their demands to reduce the deficit on the backs of working families," the 11 lawmakers wrote in a new letter to Biden. "That is simply unacceptable."
The letter and a flurry of urgent statements from progressive lawmakers came amid continued uncertainty over whether the White House and Republican negotiators would be able to reach a deal to raise the debt ceiling before the June 1 "X-date"—the day the federal government could no longer be able to pay its bills.
Progressives have vocally condemned the GOP's push for new work requirements for recipients of federal aid and deep austerity in the form of spending caps, which would devastate key programs and services and hamstring the government's ability to respond to economic turmoil.
During a press conference on Thursday following the release of the new letter, Sanders (I-Vt.) slammed Republicans for pursuing "savage cuts" to "the needs of working families, the elderly, the children, the sick, and the poor" in exchange for any agreement to raise the debt ceiling and prevent a default.
"If the right-wing Republicans force a default, it will mean the loss of millions of American jobs, interest rates on mortgages and credit cards will soar, and Americans will lose trillions of dollars in household wealth," Sanders warned.
But the senator added that "as disastrous as it would be to default on our debt, it would be equally disastrous to pass the outrageous Republican proposals," which he noted would kick millions off nutrition assistance, Medicaid, and other key programs.
Republicans have demanded a 1% cap on overall federal spending growth over the next decade—which would amount to real cuts to spending, given that growth would be unable to keep up with inflation.
Sens. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), who has said he could not support a debt ceiling deal that harms vulnerable people, argued in a statement Thursday that Biden "needs to consider using the 14th Amendment if necessary."
"The entire GOP debt ceiling negotiation is a sad charade, and it's exactly what's wrong with Washington. We're playing with fire and the livelihoods of millions just for the GOP to try and turn the screws on hungry Americans," Fetterman said. "This is the whole reason why the 14th Amendment exists, and we need to be prepared to use it. We cannot let these reckless Republicans hold the economy hostage."
Biden said earlier this month that he has been "considering" invoking the 14th Amendment but added that he doesn't believe it "solves our problem now."
The 14th Amendment states that "the public debt of the United States... shall not be questioned," and some constitutional law experts contend—given that debt payments are for spending already approved by Congress—that it provides a legal basis for Biden to end the current standoff without congressional action.
The 11 senators who signed onto the new letter agreed, writing that "using this authority would allow the United States to continue to pay its bills on time, without delay, preventing a global economic catastrophe."
"The choice we face is clear," the lawmakers argued. "We cannot reach a budget agreement that increases the suffering of millions of Americans who are already living in desperation. At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, we must ask billionaires and large corporations who are doing phenomenally well to start paying their fair share of taxes."
"Republicans' unwillingness to consider one penny in new revenue from the wealthy and large corporations, along with their diminishment of the disastrous consequences of default, have made it seemingly impossible to enact a bipartisan budget deal at this time," they added.