President Obama’s press secretary, Jay Carney, says there’s nothing the president can do if the congress fails to take action to raise the federal debt ceiling by next week, but Iowa Senator Tom Harkin, says he still isn’t so sure that’s true. Harkin says he’s talked to other people in the administration that feel a little differently than Carney.

Harkin says, “I just can’t imagine that Obama’s going to sit back and let this country go into default if congress can’t act prior to next Tuesday.” Harkin, a Democrat, says the press secretary is looking at the issue from the wrong angle.

Carney said they could find not authority to do anything, but Harkin says that’s the wrong question. He says the question should be is there anything in the Constitution that prohibits the president from acting, “and there isn’t.” Harkin’s potential solution sounds very similar to what Republican Governor Terry Branstad talked about as the state moved toward a potential shutdown before reaching a budget agreement.

It involves the president taking action in an emergency. Harkin says presidents have a lot of times acted to do something that was in the best interest in the country when time was of the essence, “where the problems were inimical to our country moving forward.” He cites Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and Franklin Roosevelt’s Lend Lease program of World War Two.

Harkin says a Supreme Court case in 1935, Perry versus the U.S., addressed the issue. Harkin says the ruling said congress has the power to borrow and spend money, but it does not have the power to ignore or violate the terms of a lending instrument. “In other words, we don’t have the authority to not pay the bills,”Harkin said.

Harkin says Republicans are “taking an unrealistic stand” on the debt ceiling negotiations and are not willing to compromise.