Senate Republicans sit out debt ceiling fight
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate Minority Leader, departs after the weekly Senate Republican Leadership press conference, at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, January 24, 2023. (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images) Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA via AP
Senate Republicans sit out debt ceiling fight
Samantha-Jo Roth January 24, 06:08 PMJanuary 24, 06:08 PM Video Embed
Senate Republicans say any plan to raise the debt ceiling will need to originate in the House, leaving negotiations to Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as he faces a push by his right flank to demand spending cuts as part of any extension of the country’s borrowing limit.
The looming showdown between House Republicans and President Joe Biden comes as the country’s debt reaches $31.4 trillion, the limit set by lawmakers when they last raised the ceiling in December 2021. Congress must act to raise or suspend that cap or risk defaulting and pushing the United States into a recession with global implications.
In a letter to lawmakers last week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said she was utilizing “extraordinary measures” that would stave off a default until at least early June, providing Congress with several months to come up with a debt ceiling compromise.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) says McCarthy must take the lead on negotiating that agreement. He made clear during a Tuesday press conference that while he cut a deal with Senate Democrats that allowed them to raise the debt limit in 2021 and negotiated another to end the standoff in 2011, he would not be playing that same role again.
“You’re probably wondering what role, if any, the Senate would play in this. As some of you recall, I’ve been through a few of these debt ceiling situations,” McConnell said.
“I can’t imagine any debt ceiling provision passed out of the Senate with 60 votes could actually pass this particular House. So, I think the final solution to this particular episode lies between Speaker McCarthy and the president,” he added.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) echoed these remarks as he came out of the conference’s Tuesday lunch session. “It’s pretty clear this is a negotiation between the White House and the House,” he said. “There’s no reason for the Senate to pass something that’s dead on arrival in the House.”
The debt limit fight was brought up at the lunch, with Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) handing out a presentation for his colleagues to show the impact of the nation’s growing debt problem.
Scott is a member of the self-proclaimed “Breakfast Club,” a group of conservatives calling for lower federal spending. The senators became a thorn in the side of Senate leadership as the upper chamber negotiated a $1.7 trillion omnibus deal before the Christmas recess.
“I think it’s good to continue to give people organized information. So, I just organized some economic information,” Scott said as he got into an elevator following the lunch. “I think we’ve got to figure out how to balance a budget. It’s really just to, you know, give people information as they do their job.”
But there was widespread acknowledgment that the end product will be decided by House Republicans and the White House, according to Sen. Mike Braun (R-WI), another member of the Breakfast Club. “Hopefully, we’ll be in cohesion with what they’re doing,” he said.
Some Democrats urged leadership to take action to pass a clean debt ceiling bill during the lame-duck session of Congress while they had unified control of both chambers. But congressional leaders ran out of time and abandoned the idea. Now that Republicans have a majority in the House, that is no longer an option.
“Speaker McCarthy asked the president to sit down and negotiate. I don’t think the president’s position of ‘I’m not going to negotiate anything’ is a realistic or a reasonable one,” said Sen. John Thune (R-SD), McConnell’s top deputy. “I think they ought to be willing to sit down with Republicans to see if, in fact, there is something that we could do that would rein in $31 trillion in debt and growing.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has not ruled out a budget deal that would raise the debt limit, much like he did in 2019 when Democrats negotiated with Republicans and the Trump administration to raise it in exchange for a $320 billion discretionary spending deal.
“I’m not going to negotiate in public. Obviously, again, we want to make sure we negotiate a budget that’s good for the average working family. We did that in the omnibus bill, we were very pleased with the outcome there, and hopefully, it can be done again without brinkmanship, but I’m not going to get into specifics,” Schumer said Tuesday.
McCarthy promised his conservative members only to allow a debt ceiling hike if they win “commensurate fiscal reforms.” If he decides to move on a debt ceiling hike without concessions sought by his right flank, any one lawmaker can request a vote for his ouster under the deal he cut to become speaker.
For now, Republicans are signaling the Senate GOP won’t be driving the strategy, but if the impasse isn’t broken, that approach could change.
“I think they’ll be able to put it together. Now, they could prove me wrong,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) with a laugh.
Other Senate Republicans also projected confidence that House Republicans would be able to negotiate a path forward.
“I think this is the moment to give the Republican majority an opportunity to lead. Though they had a very clumsy start to their new Congress, I think, so far, they’ve been doing a really good job,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND).
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