U.S. President Joe Biden assailed opposition Republican lawmakers Monday for obstructing Democrats from increasing the country’s borrowing authority to avert a potentially catastrophic default on October 18, when the U.S. government expects to run out of cash to pay its bills.
Biden said he could not guarantee the United States would not default for the first time, contending it is up to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to allow Senate Democrats on their own to increase the debt limit past its current $28.4 trillion level without the threat of a Republican filibuster to block quick action.
The U.S. leader said if the government defaults on its debts, Republicans would be responsible. Economists predict a default could have dire consequences for U.S. stock indexes and the world economy, and possibly force the government to delay pension payments to older Americans or make timely payments to government contractors.
Biden said: “I can’t believe (a default) will be the end result, because the consequences would be so dire. … But can I guarantee it? If I could, I would. But I can’t.”
He depicted a default as akin to a “meteor headed to crash into our economy,” warning of higher interest rates and declining stock valuations affecting the investments of millions of Americans.
McConnell sent a letter Monday to the White House reiterating that Republicans would not help Democrats to resolve the debt ceiling impasse.
Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says Democrats, with 50 seats in the 100-member Senate and the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris, are willing to lift the debt ceiling on their own without Republican support on a simple majority vote.
But McConnell has refused to yield the right of Republicans to filibuster the issue, which would force the Democrats to reach a 60-vote threshold with the support of at least 10 Republicans. He says Democrats should approve the debt ceiling increase through a legislative tactic called reconciliation that cannot be filibustered, a procedure Democrats say would be time-consuming and cumbersome.
“Since mid-July, Republicans have clearly stated that Democrats will need to raise the debt limit on their own,” McConnell wrote in the letter. “We have simply warned that since your party wishes to govern alone, it must handle the debt limit alone as well.”
Biden urged McConnell to simply allow Democrats to vote on the debt ceiling hike by not filibustering it, an option that would not require any Republican votes, but would allow Democrats to proceed without obstruction.
“They need to stop playing Russian roulette with the U.S. economy,” Biden said. “Not only are Republicans refusing to do their job but threatening to use their power to prevent us from doing our job — saving the economy from a catastrophic event — I think, quite frankly, is hypocritical, dangerous, and disgraceful. Their obstruction and irresponsibility knows absolutely no bounds.”
The country’s long-term debt is tantamount to personal credit card debt for consumers, requiring payments for debts already incurred. But in the latest standoff, McConnell and some Republican lawmakers are contending that lifting the debt ceiling would allow congressional Democrats to greatly expand government spending for the biggest expansion of social safety net programs since the 1960s that Republicans uniformly oppose.
The U.S., virtually alone among world governments, imposes a debt ceiling, which Congress has had to increase on numerous occasions in recent decades because the U.S. chronically spends more on government programs than it collects in revenue from corporations and individual taxpayers.
Sometimes, the debt ceiling has been increased to a specific amount, but other times it has been suspended for a year or two.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said last week that Congress ought to simply do away with the debt ceiling altogether, although that appears unlikely since lawmakers in both U.S. political parties relish blaming the other for what they perceive as excessive spending when the other party’s favored spending plans are adopted.
Schumer said in a letter to colleagues Monday that lawmakers must act quickly to increase the debt ceiling to avoid financial ramifications.
“Let me be clear about the task ahead of us: we must get a bill to the president’s desk dealing with the debt limit by the end of the week. Period,” Schumer wrote.