President Joe Biden on Monday demanded that Republicans “stop playing Russian roulette with the U.S. economy.”
Speaking to the press at the White House, Biden charged Republicans with being “hypocritical, dangerous and disgraceful” for blocking efforts by Democrats to raise the federal debt ceiling.
Senate Republicans have refused to allow votes on two bills that would increase the debt limit, pushing the nation closer to a fiscal crisis that could arrive as soon as October 18, when the U.S. Treasury says it could run out of money to meet the country’s financial obligations.
“A meteor is headed to crash into our economy,” Biden said. “Democrats are willing to do all the work stopping it. Republicans just have to let us do our job. Just get out of the way. If you don’t want to help save the country, get out of the way so you don’t destroy it.”
Biden noted that Republican policies added significantly to the debt when former President Donald Trump was in the White House, during which time Democrats voted on a bipartisan basis three times to raise the debt limit. “Now they won't raise it, even though they're responsible for the more than $8 trillion in bills incurred in the previous administration,” Biden said.
“Raising the debt limit comes down to paying what we already owe, what has already been acquired," Biden said, rejecting Republican claims that raising the debt limit would help Democrats spend more money in the future on a host of new social programs.
“Let me be really clear,” Biden added. “Raising the debt limit is about paying off our old debts. It has nothing to do with any new spending being considered. It has nothing to do with my plan for infrastructure or ‘Building Back Better.’”
McConnell unmoved: In a letter to President Biden released publicly Monday, Senate Minority Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blamed Democrats for failing to take the necessary steps to raise the debt ceiling on their own.
“I write in that spirit to express concern that our nation is sleepwalking toward significant and avoidable danger because of confusion and inaction from the Speaker of the House and the Senate Democratic Leader concerning basic governing duties,” McConnell wrote, again making it clear he accepts no responsibility for the burgeoning crisis.
McConnell pressed his case for Republican inaction, saying that he was simply following a precedent set by Democrats, including then-Sen. Biden, who refused to back increases in the debt ceiling when Republicans were in control of the government under President George W. Bush. “Your view then is our view now,” McConnell wrote, adding that the “debt limit is often a partisan vote during times of unified government.”
Still no clear path forward: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Monday that lawmakers must take steps to raise the debt ceiling in the next few days. “Let me be clear about the task ahead of us,” he wrote in a letter to colleagues. “[W]e must get a bill to the president’s desk dealing with the debt limit by the end of the week. Period.”
But Schumer did not indicate how he plans to go about raising the debt limit, saying that Democratic lawmakers would discuss the matter at a private meeting on Tuesday.
Schumer did say that he plans to hold another vote later this week on a House-passed bill that would suspend the debt ceiling until December 2022, but Republicans are expected to block the effort once again.
Risky bets: Democrats and Republicans appear to be playing a game of chicken, each gambling that the other side will swerve first. Republicans are betting that Democrats will pass a debt ceiling increase on their own via the reconciliation process – the path McConnell has been pushing for weeks. But Democrats say they don’t want to take that route, and time is running short for the complex legislative process that could take weeks to complete.
Democrats appear to be betting that Republicans will back down once it’s clear that there is no time to use the reconciliation option. They need just 10 Republicans to end the filibuster on a debt ceiling bill, which could then pass with just 50 Democratic votes. Alternatively, Democrats could break the filibuster rule and skip directly to a vote.
Whichever way it goes, it’s clear that the chances of an unplanned debt crisis are rising. Asked if he could guarantee the debt ceiling would be addressed in time, Biden said, “No I can't. That's up to Mitch McConnell.”