Republican are prepared to play with fire if they win control of the House. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) confirmed in a newly published interview with Punchbowl News that the GOP will look to use the federal debt limit as leverage to force Democratic concessions on spending. The cuts could potentially involve Social Security and Medicare.
How we got here: The debt limit is the amount of money the government can borrow as it looks to pay for previously authorized spending. Under President Barack Obama, Republicans forced a series of crisis-inducing showdowns over raising the borrowing limit. Congress then raised the debt ceiling three times under President Donald Trump without much drama, even as debt rose by another $7 trillion.
Congress late last year approved a $2.5 trillion increase in the debt ceiling despite the near unanimous opposition from the GOP. Senate Republicans led by Mitch McConnell had agreed to allow Democrats to use a one-time, fast-track process to raise the limit on their own by a simple majority vote.
The borrowing limit will need to be raised again next year to prevent an unprecedented and potentially catastrophic U.S. default. But Republicans have indicated that they will refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless Democrats agree to spending cuts or other concessions regarding the president’s agenda.
In his interview with Punchbowl, McCarthy confirmed the plan.
“You can’t just continue down the path to keep spending and adding to the debt,” McCarthy said. “And if people want to make a debt ceiling [for a longer period of time], just like anything else, there comes a point in time where, okay, we’ll provide you more money, but you got to change your current behavior. We’re not just going to keep lifting your credit card limit, right? And we should seriously sit together and [figure out] where can we eliminate some waste? Where can we make the economy grow stronger?”
Asked by Punchbowl whether changes to Social Security and Medicare might be part of a debt ceiling debate, McCarthy said he wouldn’t “predetermine” anything.
Punchbowl’s Jake Sherman says that he reminded McCarthy that Republicans didn’t push a debt limit fight under Trump. “Republicans only hold the borrowing cap hostage when Democrats are in the White House,” Sherman writes. “McCarthy countered that President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats have spent too much money, in his view.”
McCarthy warns on Ukraine aid, opposed to more Covid funding: The United States has provided more than $60 billion in aid to Ukraine and its war to fend off Russia’s invasion. While the funding has come with bipartisan support, McCarthy indicated that a House Republican majority would be wary of providing more money. “I think people are gonna be sitting in a recession and they’re not going to write a blank check to Ukraine. They just won’t do it,” he told Punchbowl. “It’s not a free blank check. And then there’s the things [the Biden administration] is not doing domestically. Not doing the border and people begin to weigh that. Ukraine is important, but at the same time it can’t be the only thing they do and it can’t be a blank check.”
McCarthy reportedly also said he would oppose any new requests for Covid funding.
The bottom line: Republicans are spelling out their plans for another debt limit showdown — one that could risk a global financial crisis — and a number of GOPers have raised the prospect of changes to Social Security and Medicare. Of course, all of this depends on Republicans winning control of at least the House. Democrats could try to preempt any 2023 brinkmanship by trying to pass a debt limit increase and additional aid to Ukraine during the post-election lame duck session.
For now, though, MSNBC’s Steve Benen may be right when he writes, “The one political fight that’s likely to matter most next year is the one thing most voters are hearing very little about.”