Republicans Throw Roadblocks Into Government Spending, Debt Ceiling Plans
Lawmakers have a long way to go to stave off a shutdown or fiscal calamity this fall.
Senate Republicans have thrown multiple wrenches into congressional efforts to keep the government funded and avoid a debt default, raising questions about how lawmakers will avert a fiscal catastrophe later this year.
Current funding is set to expire at the end of September, while the U.S. Treasury could default on its debts as soon as October. Democrats have been piecing together a plan to attach the two deadlines, aiming to pass a debt ceiling increase or suspension to a stopgap spending bill that Congress must pass by Sept. 30 to avoid a government shutdown. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Republicans would not go along with that plan, however, explaining Democrats would be on their own to avoid default.
McConnell alluded to a budget reconciliation package Democrats are expected to put forward in the coming days to include $3.5 trillion in new spending as the cause of his party’s intransigence.
“Let me make something perfectly clear,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Thursday. “If they don’t need or want our input, they won’t get our help. They won’t get our help with the debt limit increase—they won’t get our help—that these reckless plans will require. I could not be more clear.”
McConnell’s ominous pledge came just a day after he also laid down a marker on annual appropriations bills. He said on Wednesday Republicans would block the spending measures that are beginning to move through the Senate Appropriations Committee until there was an agreement on topline funding levels. Democrats have pushed for far greater spending for domestic agencies, but McConnell reiterated the Republican demand that funding increase equally for defense and non-defense parts of the budget. In order to get the appropriations process “back on track,” he said, Democrats must honor the “longstanding bipartisan truce” for spending parity. He also called on the majority party to eliminate “poison pill” riders, such as allowing federal funds to be spent on abortion coverage.
House Democrats passed some of the 12 annual spending bills before recessing through August and into September, but those measures were passed along party lines and will need to be modified to win the support of at least 10 Republican senators.
On the debt ceiling, however, McConnell pushed Democrats to change course and instead increase it through their reconciliation package. That measure can pass with only Democratic support. Senate leadership has yet to announce how it will proceed, though the White House suggested it should go through the normal process.
“The president believes Democrats and Republicans should move forward as they did three times during the last administration to raise the debt ceiling," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on Thursday cautioned lawmakers against playing games with or making demands in exchange for a debt ceiling fix.
“I just hope we can find a way to deal with this responsibly,” Durbin said. It has long been a “political football,” he added, “but to risk the possibility of a default on America's debt at this moment in our economic history is a dangerous, dangerous undertaking.”
Lawmakers previously suspended the debt ceiling, but that pause expired at the end of July. The Treasury Department then implemented “extraordinary measures”—including temporarily halting payments into federal employees’ retirement funds—to buy time until a default, but the Congressional Budget Office has warned that will occur in October or November.
“I respectfully urge Congress to protect the full faith and credit of the United States by acting as soon as possible," Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrote in a letter to Congress this week.