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Beltway Confidential

Mike Lee says failure to raise debt ceiling doesn't have to cause default

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Beltway Confidential,Sean Higgins,Debt Ceiling,Analysis,Mike Lee,Government Shutdown

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, claimed that failing to raise the debt ceiling would not automatically lead to the U.S. defaulting on its obligations -- at least not in the short term.

But it would require the government to "prioritize" its debt payments, he said, during a conference call hosted by the conservative Federalist Society.

It ... is important to recognize -- at least, as I see it -- that failing to raise the debt limit does not in and f of itself amount to, or inevitably result in, a default. A default literally means that the federal government is not paying what it owes on its debt as sums become owing and due.

It is important to remember that we bring in a little bit over $3 trillion in revenue a year. That is about what we bring into the federal government from taxes and other revenues sources. Our interest on our national debt right now is about $237 billion a year. So, we have far more than enough revenue coming in the door to make sure we pay the interest of our debt as it becomes due.

So the question is not whether we would immediately stumble into a default the minute we fail to raise the debt limit as soon as borrowing authority and extraordinary measures are exhausted. The question is, what kind of prioritization technique would be in place? What would the president do to prioritize payment of interest as it becomes due on our national debt?

Lee said the 14th amendment to the Constitution prevents the U.S. from going to default. He pointed to Section 4, which states: "The validity of the public debt of the United States ... shall not be questioned."

He suggested that Congress should pass legislation to clarify that, in the event of a debt limit-induced revenue shortfall, the president be required to pay for the interest on the debt first before funding anything else.

The legislation "could lay out additional prioritization beyond that," he added. "I think that is something we should do right away."

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Sean Higgins

Senior Writer
The Washington Examiner