Facing a potential default on U.S. debt payments in a matter of weeks, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday to ask for his bipartisan cooperation in passing an increase or suspension of the debt ceiling. But the Kentucky Republican rejected her request, according to reports Thursday, and stuck to his position that the GOP will not help Democrats address the debt limit.
“This is a unified Democrat government, engaging in a partisan reckless tax and spending spree,” a McConnell spokesman said late Wednesday after the call. “They will have to raise the debt ceiling on their own and they have the tools to do it.”
In an interview with Punchbowl News published Thursday, McConnell explained why he is refusing to support any effort to raise or suspend the debt limit: “Let me make it perfectly clear. The country must never default. The debt ceiling will need to be raised. But who does that depends on who the American people elect,” McConnell said. “So the only issue is, whose responsibility is it to do it? A Democratic president, a Democratic House, a Democratic Senate. ... It's their obligation. They should step up. It's hard being in the majority. They are the ones who will raise the debt limit.”
McConnell tipped his hat to earlier bipartisan efforts – “I have voted a number of times to raise the debt ceiling in divided government,” he said – but insisted that Democratic control absolves the Republican Party of any responsibility to help avoid what could be a global financial calamity, should the U.S. default.
Democrats push back: Not for the first time, Democrats rejected McConnell’s argument, pointing out that they voted several times to raise the debt ceiling during the Trump administration and that the debt that must be paid now was incurred in the past.
“Senators from both parties overwhelmingly voted in support of the many laws that contributed to this obligation,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said. “So neither party can wash its hands of responsibility to pay the bills.”
According to an analysis by the Associated Press, nearly 98% of the country’s $28.4 trillion national debt was incurred before President Joe Biden took office. And the total includes more than $7 trillion that was added during the Trump presidency.
A strategic gamble: While there’s more than one way for Democrats to attempt to raise the debt limit, including attaching it to the reconciliation bill they plan to use to pass President Biden’s $3.5 trillion economic package, their current strategy appears to be including an increase to a must-pass bill that will keep the government open after September 30 and provide assistance to hurricane victims and Afghanistan war refugees – while waiting for Republicans to lose their nerve and vote to support the measure.
However, Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican from Missouri who voted to raise the debt limit during the Trump presidency, told reporters Thursday that bipartisan cooperation isn’t likely, despite Biden’s oft-spoken desire for lawmakers to work across the aisle. “I don’t think anything in the last month has increased the likelihood that he can now create an atmosphere of: Let’s work together,” Blunt said.
And McConnell doesn’t sound like he’s in any mood to change his mind. “I’m not voting [for a debt limit increase],” he told Punchbowl. “How many different ways do I need to say this?”