The full faith and credit of the United States is being threatened once more as Congress debates how to raise the debt limit, which restricts the total amount of money that the federal government can legally borrow.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday said Democrats should lift the debt ceiling on their own if they intend to pass a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, vowing they would receive no GOP help to do so.
“Let me make something perfectly clear: If they don’t need or want our input, they won’t get our help. They won’t get our help with the debt limit increase … that these reckless plans will require,” McConnell said in a floor speech, denouncing the proposed package of spending on climate, health care, housing and more.
The debt ceiling officially expired at the end of July, but so-called extraordinary measures undertaken by the Treasury Department will allow the government to issue new debt for two to three additional months. That gives lawmakers some time to avoid a breach, a doomsday scenario that would result in catastrophic economic consequences.
Congress last raised the debt ceiling in 2019 as part of a huge spending deal. The vote was overwhelmingly bipartisan, with a majority of Senate Republicans, including McConnell, voting aye. But that measure was passed under a Republican president who loved red ink. Now that a Democrat is in the White House again, the GOP is raising alarms about deficits after years of looking the other way when they were in power.
“That’s total bullshit. It’s total crap. I think it should be a joint effort,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said Thursday when asked about McConnell’s position.
According to Politico, Senate Democrats are not planning to include a provision lifting the debt ceiling in their upcoming budget resolution, which serves as a blueprint for their $3.5 trillion spending package. The measure wouldn’t add to the deficit entirely: Democrats plan to offset part of the cost by raising taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans, as well as by enacting reforms to the federal prescription drug program, which is projected to yield billions in savings.
But the move would almost certainly set up another high-stakes game of chicken over the debt limit. In 2011, Republicans employed the same strategy, pushing the economy to the brink by holding the debt ceiling hostage under President Barack Obama’s administration. The resulting legislative crisis resulted in the long-term credit rating of the U.S. government being downgraded for the first time in history.
Forcing Democrats to address the issue on their own through the reconciliation process, which allows them to avoid a filibuster, could also make some of the party’s more moderate members uncomfortable. Already, some moderates, including those facing reelection next year, have expressed unease with the planned $3.5 trillion cost of the reconciliation package.
“He thinks somehow there will be a better TV ad out there for some Republican [candidate] if he can threaten to push the U.S. into a debt default. That is irresponsible and dangerous,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said of McConnell.
But other members of the Democratic caucus sounded open to the idea of addressing a debt limit hike unilaterally via reconciliation.
“It’s not an unreasonable suggestion. It’s certainly one we ought to consider,” Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) told HuffPost.
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