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Senate Democrats tee up debt ceiling standoff as McConnell vows opposition

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Washington — Lawmakers are facing the prospect of a bitter battle over increasing the nation’s debt limit in the fall, with Democrats seeking to pressure Republicans to go along with a hike as GOP leaders vow to resist it.

Senate Democrats did not include an increase to the federal debt ceiling in their newly unveiled $3.5 trillion budget resolution, which can pass without Republican support. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reiterated Monday that GOP senators would not support an increase, citing “reckless” spending by Democrats.

“Our friends across the aisle should not expect traditional bipartisan borrowing to finance their nontraditional reckless taxing and spending spree,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Monday. “That’s not how this works.”

In 2019, Congress suspended the debt limit until July 31 of this year, and the ceiling was reinstated at about $28.5 trillion on August 1. The debt ceiling is the total amount the federal government is authorized to borrow to pay its bills, and Congress decides whether and when the limit will be increased. 

The Treasury Department has already begun deploying “extraordinary measures” to fund the government’s obligations. The Congressional Budget Office has said the government could run out of cash by October or November without an increase or suspension of the debt limit.

Democrats could still ultimately decide to include an increase in the debt limit in their budget proposal. But if they don’t, a standalone increase would require the support of 60 senators, including 10 Republicans. The Senate is in the final phases of approving a separate bipartisan proposal on “hard infrastructure” — things like roads, bridges and airports — this week.

The White House has pointed to the many times Congress has previously increased the debt ceiling, including under former President Donald Trump, in encouraging lawmakers of both parties to increase the limit. 

“The president believes that Democrats and Republicans should move forward, as they did three times during the last administration, to raise the debt ceiling — something that they did even in the wake of the former president putting in place a $2 trillion tax cut that certainly did not do anything to reduce the deficit,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a press briefing last week. “So, that’s his view. He believes they should move forward and do that. That’s responsible — responsible step for our country.”

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also urged Congress to increase or suspend the debt ceiling “on a bipartisan basis.”

In recent years Congress has addressed the debt limit through regular order, with broad bipartisan support,” Yellen said in a statement Monday. “In fact, during the last administration, Democrats and Republicans came together to do their duty three times. Congress should do so again now by increasing or suspending the debt limit on a bipartisan basis.”

The national debt, which was already soaring before the COVID-19 pandemic, lurched upwards faster under both Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden in 2020 and 2021. According to nonprofit Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the national debt currently stands at $28.43 trillion, or $86,049 per person.


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