WASHINGTON -- With just days before the United States hits the danger zone for defaulting on its debt, Democrats made a fresh plea to the Republican-led Congress Friday to raise the borrowing cap.
The nation's debt ceiling -- which caps the amount of money the Treasury Department can borrow to pay the nation's bills -- stands at $18.1 trillion. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warned last spring that the country hit that number then, and that he was resorting to "extraordinary measures" to keep meeting America's obligations.
But he now estimates that the Treasury's ability to pay the bills will end on Nov. 3, when the United States will only have about $30 billion on hand -- and Uncle Sam's daily expenditures often hit $60 billion.
Republican leaders in both chambers of Congress say they want to raise the limit to avoid such economic damage. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said this week that he was waiting on the House to act, and House leaders decided to back away from plans they had been considering to get the deed done Friday.
This led Democrats to send a letter to Republicans Friday saying please, please just raise the cap -- we will back you.
"We will support a clean extension of the debt ceiling which will allow America to continue to pay its bills as they come due," said the letter, signed by all but two Democrats. "We categorically reject the view that it would be acceptable for America to default if unrelated demands are not met," they said, noting that when Congress pushed close to default in 2011, it caused a spike in interest rates that cost about $19 billion.
In a news conference called to highlight the letter, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that if Republicans want to negotiate on something, they should save it for the government funding bill that needs to be passed by Dec. 11.
"I see a path, I'm optimistic," Pelosi said. "We stand ready to cooperate, to negotiate on the keeping-government-open legislation."
The offices of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) did not immediately respond to requests for comment, although McCarthy pledged later in an announcement on the House floor to bring up some sort of legislation next week.
The debt ceiling was originally created in 1917 to make it easier for the executive branch to pay bills by ending the requirement that it get approval for each item that required borrowing. It does not authorize new spending. Spending is determined by Congress when it passes its budget and appropriations bills.
Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) argued that given that reality, it's hypocritical for Republicans to balk at raising the debt limit to pay for spending that they themselves called for.
"The [budget], supported by 228 Republicans on March 5 of 2015, built in it a requirement that in order to meet the budget the Republicans supported ... an addition to our national debt of $2 trillion," Welch said. "In March they voted for a budget that they're now sabotaging in October."
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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