Key Lawmaker Says Democrats Lack Time to Raise Debt Limit on Their Own
(Bloomberg) -- House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth said that his staff experts have concluded Democrats “probably” do not have enough time to raise the U.S. debt ceiling on their own using a fast-track budget process in time to avoid a default by the U.S. Treasury.
Yarmuth has for months said that Democrats could use the so-called budget reconciliation process, if necessary, to raise the debt limit. At one point he urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to raise it to “a gazillion dollars” to make the debt ceiling inoperative for years to come. He said his staff members have now told him time has run out on that option -- a contention that’s been disputed by a Senate Republican aide.
“Budget Committee staff has concluded that the obstacles to amending the existing reconciliation bill are insurmountable and a new reconciliation process to raise the limit probably could not be done in time to stave off a default,” Yarmuth said in an interview Wednesday.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that her department will exhaust its “extraordinary” measures to stave off a payments default sometime in October.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans have said for months that Democrats should use the budget process -- which requires just a 50 vote majority in the Senate to pass fiscal legislation -- to raise the debt ceiling. Most GOP senators have pledged to oppose suspending the debt limit, in protest against an up-to $3.5 trillion tax-and-spending plan Democrats are pursuing on their own.
Democrats are currently seeking a bipartisan vote to suspend the debt ceiling until Dec. 16, 2022, a measure they attached to a stopgap spending bill that would keep the U.S. government open through Dec. 3. Senate Republicans plan to block that bill, which the House passed on Tuesday, when it comes up for a procedural vote in coming days.
Congressional Democrats didn’t include a debt-limit measure in their 2022 budget resolution -- the vehicle that opened the way for the up-to $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. Adding one would trigger a lengthy amendment free-for-all vote in the Senate.
A Senate Republican aide disputed Yarmuth’s assesment, however, arguing that the Senate can initiate the budget-amendment process and complete it within two to three weeks. If kicked off soon enough, that would fall within the time frame of the Treasury still being able to avert a default.
Yarmuth told reporters on Wednesday, “We could start the process over with a separate budget-reconciliation bill that is devoted to just raising the debt limit -- the law allows us to do that.” But he warned, “That’s a matter of weeks. So, you’re up against a potential deadline.”
Asked what the options were, Yarmuth said, “I don’t know,” and suggested, “Maybe change their thinking?” with regard to Republican lawmakers.
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