Republicans and Democrats alike are throwing cold water on the idea of moving a short-term debt ceiling increase before a June 1 deadline, raising the pressure on negotiators to reach a deal before then or risk a government default.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told reporters on Tuesday he is not in favor of a short-term clean increase, saying he doesn’t want to “play this movie over and over again.”
Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), chair of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, said Republicans would not accept any weeks- or months-long debt ceiling lift unless it is tied to some other measure “to show some good faith.”
“If they want to do something for a month and throw the REINS Act in,” he said, referring to a bill to increase Congressional authority over the federal rulemaking process. “Then, I think that something like that we’d be interested in talking about.”
“But if they think we’re just going to extend the debt limit for a month or two or six or whatever without anything on the other side of the equation so that they can try a more politically advantageous time to them, to box in more spending — that’s not going to happen.”
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also dismissed the idea of a short-term stopgap last week after House Republicans passed their bill to raise the debt ceiling — legislation that ties the hike to deep spending cuts.
“We just passed the bill. It’s not our job to modify it,” McCarthy said in a press conference. “The Senate can pass our bill or send me something that they have, and we’ll go to conference.”
“Otherwise, we’ve done our job. We’re the only ones to raise the debt limit to make sure this economy is not in jeopardy,” McCarthy said.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Monday gave lawmakers the bad news that the nation will reach its deadline for raising the debt ceiling around June 1.
That gives lawmakers precious little time to reach a deal, especially with President Biden insisting on a “clean” debt ceiling hike and Republicans saying it has to be accompanied by spending cuts.
With scheduled recesses and a planned Biden trip to Asia, the House and Senate are scheduled to be in session at the same time for about eight days in May — underscoring the difficult time frame.
That’s led to speculation that lawmakers might want to buy more time for the talks by agreeing to a weeks-long extension that would give lawmakers — some of whom have acknowledged the June 1 date was a surprise — a little more breathing room.
“I don’t know anybody who thought it was going to be June 1,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said.
Yet doing a short-term deal would be highly difficult — at least in the House, where McCarthy is under enormous pressure not to waver.
With control of the House this year, Republicans are hoping to rein in federal deficits by using the threat of default as leverage to force Biden and Democrats to accept steep cuts in federal spending in return for the debt limit increase.
“Republicans across the spectrum cannot be more clear — we are not entertaining a clean increase of any kind,” said Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), head of the Republican Study Committee, on Tuesday.
The news of the looming deadline sparked a quick response from Biden, who invited McCarthy, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to discuss the debt limit on May 9. Heading into that meeting, however, both sides are digging in on their previous positions.
Democrats continue to support Biden’s demand that Republicans accept a “clean” debt ceiling increase with no conditions. With that goal in mind, Jeffries on Tuesday announced Democrats are moving on a discharge petition to force a vote on raising the debt limit — a long-shot tactic that would require support from at least five Republicans to pass through the House over McCarthy’s objections.
When pressed by reporters, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre appeared to leave some room for the possibility of a short-term debt limit extension but said she “won’t negotiate in public on any of this.”
“What I’m going to say is we’ve been very clear — it needs to be done without conditions,” she said. “They need to take action; Congress needs to act, and that’s what the president will continue to make clear, even in the meeting next week.”
As June 1 rushes ever closer, some lawmakers are predicting the current debate will follow the contours of debt ceiling fights in the past, which have always taken the country close to the edge of default, but never over it.
With that in mind, some rank-and-file senators believe Congress just needs a deadline — not more time — to induce an elusive deal.
“How many deadline-oriented things have we ever gotten done six weeks before the deadline?” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) asked rhetorically. “So why would you just push the deadline off so that we just delay the real work until the real target date? We have plenty of time to negotiate it within the confines of what Yellen put out [on Monday].”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) noted she was expecting this issue to be dealt with later in the summer, but she added there’s no need to prolong this battle.
“But the same problem is there, so this just tells us we’ve got to get this done,” she said.