With the United States set to reach the debt limit this week, all eyes are on the Capitol as lawmakers gear up for what may be the first major battle in the new Congress.
On Tuesday, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., rejected calls from Democrats to do a clean increase to the debt ceiling without any strings attached, something that has been done repeatedly regardless of which party is in the White House or controls Congress.
“That’s totally off the table,” McCarthy told reporters. "We've got to change.”
“If you had a child and you gave them a credit card, and they kept raising it, and they hit the limit, so you just raised it again, clean, increase — and again, and again,” McCarthy continued. “Would you just keep doing that, or would you change the behavior?”
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen sent a letter to McCarthy and other House and Senate leaders last week warning that the U.S. is likely to reach the debt ceiling on Thursday, and that they would need to take “certain extraordinary measures” to ensure that the U.S. will not default on its debts.
Yellen said that lawmakers likely have until the late spring or early summer to act: "While Treasury is not currently able to provide an estimate of how long extraordinary measures will enable us to continue to pay the government’s obligations, it is unlikely that cash and extraordinary measures will be exhausted before early June.”
“We’re six months away,” McCarthy said Tuesday. “Why wouldn't we sit down now and change this behavior, so that we would put ourselves on a more fiscally strong position?”
Republicans in Congress have wanted to tie debt ceiling votes to spending cuts or other concessions from Democrats, saying that they would only raise the debt ceiling to secure an overhaul in federal spending. Democrats, on the other hand, contend that they worked with Republicans to increase the debt limit three times under former President Donald Trump and when the GOP had control of Congress.
For his part, Trump encouraged Republicans in a post on his Truth Social platform that they “can get back almost everything that McConnell gave up to the Radical Left” in debt ceiling negotiations.
“Be tough, don’t give in,” the former president wrote.
In an interview Monday, McCarthy’s Democratic counterpart, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., called on Republicans to set aside “partisan and political gamesmanship” when it comes to the debt limit.
“One of the things that we will definitely have to do over the next few months is to raise the debt ceiling in order to protect the full faith and credit of the United States of America,” Jeffries told Spectrum News on Monday.
“In our country’s history … the United States of America has never defaulted on our debt,” Jeffries said. “If we were to do so, because of extremist Republicans in the House, that will have grave consequences for Social Security, for Medicare, for the economy and … not just for the country, but for the world.”
Yellen warned in her letter that “failure to meet the government’s obligations would cause irreparable harm to the U.S. economy, the livelihoods of all Americans, and global financial stability.”
“In the past, even threats that the U.S. government might fail to meet its obligations have caused real harms, including the only credit rating downgrade in the history of our nation in 2011,” Yellen continued.
The White House has similarly refused to negotiate with Republicans when it comes to the debt limit.
"We are not going to be negotiating over the debt ceiling," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Tuesday at a briefing. "This is something that should be done without conditions."