U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, answers questions during a public meeting in Eldridge, Iowa Monday Feb. 21, 2011. (Jeff Cook/QUAD-CITY TIMES) JEFF COOK

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, says he’s not comfortable with it, but he broached the idea today that a provision in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution may provide a way out of the debt limit impasse.

In a conference call with Iowa reporters, Grassley said the 14th Amendment guarantees that the debts of the federal government shall be paid.

“And so people are looking at the fact that maybe the debt ceiling bill that Congress presumably has to pass for the government to borrow more maybe is contrary to that constitutional provision,” he said.

As the White House and congressional negotiators have inched closer to going over the current debt ceiling, there’s been increasing talk that the debt ceiling law, passed in 1917, might clash with the post-Civil War 14th Amendment.

The amendment reads, in part, that “the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law ... shall not be questioned.”

Some legal and economic analysts have said the president could rely on the provision and simply ignore Congress to continue issuing debt. The Treasury Department has warned of dire consequences if the debt ceiling isn’t increased by Aug. 2.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, dismissed the 14th Amendment question over the weekend as “crazy talk,” and critics of the approach say that simply setting a limit on government borrowing doesn’t question the validity of U.S. debt.

Grassley said today he wasn’t sure of the constitutionality of the question but isn’t comfortable with the idea.

At the same time, he stopped short of saying the administration should not pursue the matter.

“I’m not going to give the White House any advice on this, because right now, I take an oath not only to uphold the Constitution but all the laws, and the debt limit law is one of those that I take an oath to uphold,” he said.

Grassley brought up the amendment in answer to a question about what he thought would occur if the Aug. 2 deadline is missed. He said he thinks the deadline will be met.

“I guess I have the feeling that government’s been in crisis in the past, and that deadlines bring action, and there’s going to be action before Aug. 2,” he said.