President Joe Biden isn’t mincing words as the country careers toward an economic crisis, with Republicans and Democrats at odds over lifting the debt ceiling before a potential default later this month.
“If you don’t want to help save the country, get out of the way so you don’t destroy it,” Biden said in a public address Monday. “They need to stop playing Russian roulette with the American economy.”
The U.S. Treasury Department has estimated that the federal government could default on its debt by mid-October if Congress doesn’t agree to raise the cap on the debt limit before then.
The U.S. House has agreed to the move, but the Senate, where Democrats have a narrow majority, has been locked up over the vote as Republicans oppose an increase. Senate GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed that Republicans won’t support the debt ceiling bill because Democrats are seeking trillions for social programs.
“Since mid-July, Republicans have clearly stated that Democrats will need to raise the debt limit on their own,” McConnell wrote in a letter to Biden on Monday. He went on to accuse Democrats of treating bipartisanship as a “light switch” to use for raising the debt limit while following a Democrats-only path toward bigger spending proposals.
“We have no list of demands. For two and a half months, we have simply warned that since your party wishes to govern alone, it must handle the debt limit alone, as well,” the Kentucky Republican wrote.
Biden told reporters he plans to speak with McConnell on the matter later on Monday.
Democrats could take the rare route of increasing the debt limit without bipartisan support, but that will require a Senate procedural maneuver that could take two weeks or more.
Democratic leaders have sought ways to avoid this track, but the GOP has repeatedly blocked them.
Initially, the Democrats had tried to couple the debt ceiling increase with a stopgap measure to fund the government through early December and avert a federal shutdown, but Senate Republicans blocked the measure. Democratic leaders then decoupled the two proposals to continue funding the government.
In a letter to Democratic colleagues on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said members will meet for lunch Tuesday to continue discussing the path forward, but he emphasized that the debt ceiling issue should be resolved as soon as possible. He and other Democrats have argued that the debt issue is largely due to a large business tax cut approved under then-President Donald Trump and the bipartisan pandemic relief bills.
“Our Republican colleagues have completely abdicated their responsibility to the nation by refusing to pay for the spending and debts incurred as a result of the bipartisan COVID relief legislation passed during the Trump administration,” Schumer wrote. “Let me be clear about the task ahead of us: we must get a bill to the president’s desk dealing with the debt limit by the end of the week. Period.”
Schumer called it a “pivotal moment,” with Democrats having narrow margins of control over the House and Senate and holding the White House. But they are struggling to navigate passage of Biden’s major agenda proposals. The looming debt ceiling crisis has largely overshadowed last week’s fight over an infrastructure bill and a broader $3.5 trillion budget package to expand the social safety net and address climate change. Agreement among Democratic progressives and moderates fizzled last week, but negotiations continue.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told lawmakers that Congress has until mid-October to adjust the debt ceiling and avoid the United States’ first-ever government default.
“We now estimate that Treasury is likely to exhaust its extraordinary measures if Congress has not acted to raise or suspend the debt limit by October 18,” Yellen wrote.
Congress has temporarily placed on the back burner the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and the separate $3.5 trillion spending plan, with Biden pushing for both to get passed.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has repeatedly pushed back self-imposed deadlines to get the infrastructure bill through, while the Senate continues to hash out the details of the larger spending package and its final cost. In a letter to colleagues over the weekend, she set a new October 31 deadline for the infrastructure measure.