Democrats aim for maximum pressure on GOP over debt ceiling

Senate Democrats are widely expected to package legislation to raise the nation’s debt ceiling with a government funding measure, an effort aimed at putting maximum pressure on Republicans to support raising the borrowing limit or risk blame for a government shutdown.

Republicans have insisted they will not provide the 10 votes needed to break a filibuster and raise the debt ceiling, a position that has infuriated Democrats who argue rising debt is the result of policies advocated by both parties.

Their aim in combining the debt vote with the government funding measure is to ratchet up the stakes and make it as politically uncomfortable as possible for Republicans to vote against the debt hike.

Republicans on Tuesday vowed to vote against any effort to increase the debt ceiling, even if it’s paired with legislation to avoid a government shutdown.

Several Senate Republicans said any legislation to raise the debt ceiling won’t pick up any GOP support.

“Let me crystal clear about this, Republicans are united in opposition to raising the debt ceiling,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters after meeting with the GOP conference Tuesday.

McConnell explained that Republicans oppose raising the debt ceiling “not because it doesn’t need to be done” but because it would open the way for Democrats to move forward with plans to pass a $3.5 trillion human infrastructure package under the budget reconciliation process.

“The last time the debt ceiling was raised, it was done on a bipartisan basis in conjunction with an overall [spending] caps agreement and that debt ceiling increase covers what we did last year” when Congress passed the $2 trillion CARES Act and other legislation to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Former President Trump cut a deal with Democratic leaders in Congress in 2019 to increase spending caps by more than $300 billion and suspend the debt ceiling for two years.

Republicans now say President Biden must be willing to come up with a bipartisan deal to cut spending if he wants to raise the debt ceiling with Republican votes.

“The Democrats have the capacity to raise the debt limit on their own, which is exactly what they should do. They’re spending well above our revenues, and they should associate the debt limit with their own spending,” Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), a prominent Republican moderate, told reporters when asked whether he would vote for any government funding bill that also increases the debt ceiling.

At a lunch meeting Tuesday, Senate Democrats discussed various options for raising the debt ceiling, including the possibility of adding it to an emergency supplemental spending bill to respond to wildfires and floods that have ravaged different parts of the country, according to senators who were present at the meeting.

The supplemental spending bill would then likely be attached to a continuing resolution to keep the federal government open beyond Sept. 30, Democratic sources said.

McConnell told Republican senators at a GOP conference lunch meeting Tuesday that he wants Democrats to wholly “own” the rise in the federal debt between now and the midterm election, according to a senator who attended.

Other Republicans including Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), the ranking member of the Budget Committee, and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) said they do not expect any GOP colleagues to vote for a funding stopgap that raises the debt ceiling, even if that might risk a government shutdown.

“I don’t think we’re going to vote for a debt ceiling increase to allow them to add trillions of dollars to the deficit,” Capito said when asked if debt-ceiling language is attached with legislation to fund government past Oct. 1.

Republicans have pressed Schumer to include legislation to raise the debt ceiling in the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package that Democrats plan to pass by a party-line vote under budget reconciliation. The budget rules prevent Republicans from filibustering the measure.

But Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have effectively ruled out that option.

“We won’t be putting it in reconciliation, no,” Pelosi told reporters last week.

The budget resolution passed by the Senate and House last month did not include a special reconciliation instruction to raise the debt limit. Therefore, the budget resolution would have to be amended to set up a path to increase the nation’s borrowing authority with only Democratic votes under reconciliation.

Democratic members of the Senate Budget Committee on Tuesday said they’re not sure whether the parliamentarian will even allow that to happen.

“It’s a gray area,” said a Democrat who has participated in behind-the-scenes discussions about what strategy to adopt.

Schumer sought to put more pressure on Republicans after a lunch meeting of the Democratic caucus where senators discussed strategies for raising the debt limit.

“On keeping the government funded and addressing the debt limit, every member of my caucus agrees we cannot allow a government shutdown or a catastrophic default. To prevent both of these from happening, it will require bipartisan cooperation just as we’ve done in the past,” he told reporters.

“We didn’t play games, we didn’t risk the credit of the country, we did it,” Schumer said of the three times congressional Democrats voted to raise the debt limit during the Trump administration.

“Sen. McConnell seems to be trying to break new ground by saying that we should let the country default. I ask you to ask each Republican senator are they willing to vote to let the country default?” he said.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned congressional leaders in a letter last week that the Treasury Department may exhaust its ability to use “extraordinary measures” to keep paying the government’s debt obligations by sometime in October.

The suspension of the debt ceiling technically ended on Aug. 1.

Democrats have urged Republicans’ traditional allies in the business community to begin weighing in with GOP lawmakers to warn them about the economic carnage that would result if Congress failed to raise the debt limit, putting the nation at risk of a default when it is borrowing record amounts.

Schumer on Tuesday declined to lay out his precise legislative strategy for raising the debt limit, only saying he is reviewing “different options.”

“I’d like every single Republican senator to answer the question, ‘Are they willing to let the government default?’ As to the plans, we are working. There are a number of different options. The White House, Speaker Pelosi, myself are discussing those,” he said.

“Leader McConnell, as I said, is playing dangerous political games by not stepping up to the plate as he asked us to do and we did when Trump was president,” he added.

Via The Hill