President Joe Biden on Monday called out Republicans for refusing to allow Democrats to raise the debt ceiling, even though they supported legislation that necessitated an increase in the first place.
“Raising the debt limit is about paying back our old debt. It has nothing to do with new spending,” Biden said at the White House, calling the GOP’s refusal to support the action “hypocritical.” “They won’t vote to raise the debt limit to cover their own spending.”
Twice last week, Republicans blocked legislation that would have raised the statutory debt limit, which lets the government borrow money to pay bills it has already incurred. The GOP helped to add trillions of dollars in debt under the previous administration, but now lawmakers refuse to raise the debt ceiling with a Democrat in the White House.
Congress must raise the debt ceiling by Oct. 18 in order to stave off a catastrophic default on U.S. debt. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that even waiting until the last minute to raise the debt limit could cause economic damage to financial markets and negatively impact the credit rating of the U.S. “for years to come.”
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday that Congress must raise the debt ceiling by the end of the week. If not, he warned, senators should prepare to work weekends and during a scheduled recess to get it done.
“We do not have the luxury of waiting until October 18, as it is our responsibility to re-assure the world that the United States meets our obligations in a timely fashion and that the full faith and credit of the United States should never be in question,” Schumer said in a letter his Democratic colleagues.
Republicans have been telling Democrats since July to raise the debt ceiling via reconciliation, a complicated budget process that could take weeks to complete. Schumer said last week that the process would be risky at this point because GOP objections could delay the passage of legislation raising the debt ceiling.
“It’s an incredibly cumbersome, complicated process,” Biden said Monday, noting that reconciliation could require “literally up to hundreds of votes” in the Senate.
It’s unclear what other path remains since both sides are now demanding the other cave, and Biden notably did not rule out the option in his remarks.
What’s unusual about this debt limit standoff — compared to the one that took place under a different Democratic president in 2011 — is that Republicans aren’t demanding anything in return for voting to increase the government’s borrowing authority, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) acknowledged in a letter to Biden on Monday. A decade ago, for example, Republicans wanted Democrats to accept spending cuts in order to address the nation’s debt.
“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,” McConnell wrote in the letter.
Democrats agreed last week to raise the debt limit with solely Democratic votes, as Republicans are insisting on, by proposing the Senate hold a simple majority vote on the legislation. But Republicans blocked that request, requiring 60 votes for passage. They prefer making the act of raising the debt ceiling as painful as possible for Democrats — a protest of their social spending and climate proposal, the Build Back Better Act — and maximizing Democratic infighting in the process.
Asked Monday if he can guarantee the U.S. won’t breach the debt ceiling on Oct. 18, Biden said, “No, I can’t. That’s up to Mitch McConnell.”
“Democrats are willing to do all the work raising it,” the president added. “Republicans just have to let us do our job. Get out of the way.”