Democrats and Republicans continued to stand firm on Sunday over their debt ceiling negotiating positions after the House GOP passed a bill that would raise the debt ceiling in exchange for spending cuts — a measure the White House says is a nonstarter.
Instead, the White House and Democrats want a “clean” debt ceiling increase, meaning a vote only on that, before negotiations begin over spending and the budget. Clean increases have been the status quo for decades, despite attempts by Republicans in the last decade to tie it to their policy preferences.
“We must avoid default, and the only way to avoid default is to do it clean. When Donald Trump was president, we Democrats didn’t threaten, didn’t play brinksmanship,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said at a press conference in New York on Sunday. “We have this extreme wing in the House that is risking default, which will set us back for years.”
The debt ceiling is the self-imposed limit the U.S. government has on how much money they can borrow to fund the budget and keep the lights on. Currently, the U.S. owes roughly $31.5 trillion, according to the Treasury Department. The ceiling of $31.38 trillion was technically hit in January, but Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen took “extraordinary measures” to give lawmakers more time, including temporarily suspending debt payments to retirement funds for civil service and postal service employees.
In February, the Treasury Department estimated the U.S. could default on its debts by June, with more recent estimates from financial giants like Bank of America and Goldman Sachs agreeing the ceiling could be reached by this summer.
“The House plan is a lose-lose,” said Schumer. “Either we default on the national debt with horrible consequences for every family in America, or we default on New York through extreme cuts that will harm millions.”
Experts believe that a default would rattle the global economy, panic financial markets, and could possibly lead to an economic depression.
Since the limit was first implemented at the turn of the 20th century, the U.S. has never failed to raise the debt ceiling under presidents of both parties, but Republicans have framed their negotiating position as responsible, arguing the debt is so high because of too much spending by the government.
“The Republicans in the House are responsible and Joe Biden — what is he saying? He's saying ‘I will not talk. I will not negotiate. I will not get in on anything, anyhow, anyway.’” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.”
“And what is happening is Joe Biden is gambling,” Cruz charged. “Joe Biden needs to stop playing roulette with the American economy and with the American credit.”
Cruz went on to claim Biden was acting like a “terrorist” over the negotiations, but also that he was “locked in the basement” and his administration was actually being run by “25-year-old radicals” and “little Marxists with no experience in the real world.”
Biden has said he’s ready to negotiate on the budget, but won’t waver on a clean debt ceiling increase. The president and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy haven’t met in two months and Biden appears to be waiting him out, believing his position is weak.
“The Speaker is trying to claim a big win this week, but the last time Republicans voted on something this… hapless, it took 15 tries,” Biden joked at the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday night, adding “you all keep reporting my approval rating is at 42%.”
“But I think you don’t know this: Kevin McCarthy called me and asked me ‘Joe, what the hell is your secret?’” the president continued. McCarthy’s approval rating in January was 32% among American adults, according to a poll from The Economist and YouGov.
On Sunday morning, Cruz seemed to concede Biden’s point: McCarthy wouldn’t have the support of his caucus even if he wanted to pass a clean debt ceiling increase.
“Kevin McCarthy cannot pass a clean but debt ceiling in the house. The votes are not there. That's not going to happen,” Cruz said. The bill passed the House by two votes, with four Republicans declining to vote in favor of the measure.
Echoing Cruz’s “terrorist” remark, Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat and close ally of Biden, told ABC News’ “This Week” on Sunday that Republicans “are demanding hostage negotiations.”
“They will crash the full faith and credit of the United States,” Coons said. “President Biden has said he will meet with Speaker McCarthy about the things we should be discussing: the annual spending, the appropriations process.”
The White House and Democrats have said the bill passed by the House last week would cut funding for veterans, Medicaid recipients, Social Security administration, and Meals on Wheels, among other programs.
“We can start negotiating tomorrow, but you cannot be holding the American people, the world’s economy hostage,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “What the Republicans have got to say is ‘absolutely, we are going to make sure that we pay our debts.’ Let's sit down and negotiate a budget.”
Republicans continue to insist the spending is out of control and cuts are a necessary part of the agreement. They argue that Americans want deficit reduction.
In their many appearances on the Sunday morning political shows, no Democratic or Republican lawmaker would say if they were willing to default on the country’s debts if their respective positions did not win out.