Schumer, McConnell Meet on Debt Ceiling as Some in GOP Dig In
(Bloomberg) -- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell met Thursday to discuss the need to boost the nation’s debt ceiling sometime around mid-December.
The meeting comes two days after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen indicated to lawmakers that they risked a U.S. government default if they failed to lift the legal debt ceiling by Dec. 15, telling them that “there are scenarios in which Treasury would be left with insufficient remaining resources to continue to finance the operations of the U.S. government beyond this date.”
“We had a good discussion about several different issues that are extent here as we move toward the end of the session, and we agreed to keep talking to try to get somewhere,” McConnell said as he left Schumer’s office.
The meeting suggests that Schumer and McConnell are seeking a smoother path to addressing the debt ceiling following a clash last month that had started to rattle financial markets. Congress ultimately approved a short-term debt limit hike.
Republicans have demanded that Democrats use the tedious budget reconciliation process to raise the debt limit without GOP votes, while Schumer continues to insist that any boost in the nation’s limit on borrowing authority be bipartisan. Schumer reiterated that on Tuesday. McConnell, when asked about his position, simply said he’s sure the ceiling will be increased.
“We’ll figure out how to avoid default,” McConnell said. “We always do.”
Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said Democrats are taking the same position they took last time: The Republicans should give their consent to let a debt limit increase pass with just a simple majority without any filibuster, allowing Democrats in the 50-50 Senate to then clear it quickly on their own.
“As of today, it’s still do the right thing or get out of my way,” Van Hollen said.
The No. 2 Senate Republican, John Thune of South Dakota, said on Thursday that the two leaders already have had some informal talks about the next debt-limit hike, and sounded optimistic about their prospects.
“We’ll see how this thing ends up getting landed, but I think there are good-faith efforts being made to try and create a process where Democrats can deliver the votes to raise the debt limit and Republicans have the opportunity to vote against it,” Thune said.
Yet several senior GOP lawmakers on Thursday indicated Republicans aren’t ready to budge from their insistence on Democrats using the reconciliation process.
“We cannot default,” Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio said on Bloomberg Television’s “Balance of Power.” “The Democrats control the White House, the House and effectively the Senate,” so “they have the ability to do it on their own,” he said of a debt-ceiling increase. “They should, and they know that.”
Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, pointed to an earlier proposal he had in October that would expedite the reconciliation process so that an increase could happen on a more rapid timetable, limiting the time taken away from other Senate work.
“My proposal is that Democrats can pass the debt limit all by themselves and that’s what they should do,” Toomey said. “What they don’t want to do is use the tool that’s readily available to them, because it requires them to disclose the massive amount of debt that they want to inflict upon the American people.”
When the Senate voted to raise the debt ceiling in October, it was marked by brinkmanship that ended when McConnell offered a proposal that had Republicans clear the way for Democrats to extend the ceiling until a Dec. 3 projected deadline. McConnell then faced sharp criticism from fellow Republicans like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and former President Donald Trump, who argued that the minority leader had capitulated to Democrats.
McConnell produced enough Republican votes to help ensure that the measure moved to final passage -- but only after a struggle that transpired even after the debt limit bill was under debate on the Senate floor on Oct. 7. After the vote, he sent a terse letter to President Joe Biden warning that “I will not provide such assistance again if your all-Democrat government drifts into another avoidable crisis.”
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