By Mike Lillis - 09/25/13 09:49 PM EDT
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday said President Obama should not have renounced the option of raising the debt ceiling without Congress.
The California Democrat argues that the 14th Amendment empowers the president to hike the debt limit without congressional support.
"I think the 14th Amendment covers it. The president and I have a disagreement in that regard, I guess," Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol. "I would never have taken that off the table."
Standing beside Pelosi, Rep. Jim Clyburn (S.C.), the third-ranking House Democrat, smiled and nodded in agreement.
Section 4 of that amendment states that, "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned."
The Treasury Department is expected to hit the nation's $16.7 trillion debt limit in roughly three weeks, setting the stage for a high-stakes fight between the parties over how to extend the government's borrowing authority and prevent a default.
Obama and the Democrats are insisting on a clean debt-limit increase, arguing the hike simply allows the government to pay for spending that Congress has already approved. Republicans, meanwhile, are hoping to use the must-past legislation as leverage to enact a legislative wish list.
Among the proposals that GOP leaders are eyeing as attachments to the debt ceiling increase are a one-year delay in ObamaCare, approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and the repeal of regulations the Republicans deem unfriendly to businesses.
Obama has vowed not to negotiate over the debt limit, but the GOP's strategy could force him to the table if leaders on Capitol Hill can't find a path forward.
Treasury Secretary Jack LewJack LewOvernight Finance: GOP makes its case for impeaching IRS chief | Clinton hits Trump over housing crash remarks | Ryan's big Puerto Rico win The Hill's 12:30 Report House bill cuts IRS funding MORE said Wednesday that, absent congressional action, the agency's borrowing authority would expire on Oct. 17.
Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have accused Republicans of bowing to their most conservative wing at the risk of tanking the economy.
"Don't mess with the debt limit," Pelosi said Wednesday. "Whatever luxury you want to be afforded to make your point and get attention because it's center stage, that's a luxury we can't afford."
On Wednesday, House Democrats sent a letter to Obama offering their support for a clean debt-ceiling increase.
Spearheaded by Rep. Peter WelchPeter WelchOvernight Defense: Senate panel approves 2B defense bill Lawmakers push for ISIS war measure in defense bill Lawmakers urge Obama not to send shoulder-fired missiles to Syria MORE (D-Vt.), the letter is signed by 185 other House Democrats, including all the leaders.