Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) declared Tuesday that Republicans intend to use the debt limit as “leverage” to extract concessions from Democrats, setting up a direct confrontation with President Barack Obama, who has vowed that raising the debt limit is non-negotiable.
“I would be stunned if we raised the debt ceiling and didn’t do something about the debt. I think that’s the view of virtually every Republican,” McConnell told reporters at his weekly Capitol briefing. ‘It seems like the only time the president’s ever willing to address the question of deficits and debt is when we have some opportunity and some leverage to bring him to the table. And the request to raise the debt ceiling is one of those opportunities.”
The United States government’s borrowing authority is set to expire in mid-October. The government will default on its debt if Congress doesn’t act to raise the current $16.7 trillion limit.
“Senate Democrats and the president are not going to negotiate on the debt limit,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told reporters moments later.
McConnell echoed the argument by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) that fiscal reforms have been attached to prior debt limit hikes. “It is quite common for requests of presidents to raise the debt ceiling to be accompanied by significant legislation that addresses the question of the debt,” said the Senate Republican leader, rattling off examples. Congress has in fact packaged the debt limit with budgetary reforms several times. But prior to the 2011 standoff that brought the U.S. within hours of default, those instances involved compromises from both parties and lacked the threat of default if an agreement was not reached.
Earlier this year, the last time the debt limit deadline was approaching, Obama similarly vowed not to negotiate and Republicans folded and lifted it without substantive concessions. As McConnell himself admitted in 2011, Republicans wouldn’t permit default.
“I think some of our members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting. Most of us didn’t think that,” McConnell said back in 2011. “What we did learn is this Â– it’s a hostage that’s worth ransoming.”
McConnell, who is fending off a conservative challenger for re-election, sidestepped a question Tuesday about whether he supports defunding Obamacare in the continuing resolution. He said it’s up to the House to act first.
“Well, one thing all Republicans agree on is that we think Obamacare is the worst piece of legislation in the last 50 years. All of us have voted to defund it, delay it, pick it apart in one way or another. We know it’s wreaking havoc with the American economy,” he said. “The question at this point is, what will the House send us? And that is the first step. What will the House send us over with the continuing resolution. It’s up to them. We will react to what they send us and be happy to vote on it at that point.”
Reid echoed his remarks calling on the House to pass a bill.
“It’s up to the House to act. We’re waiting for them to act,” Reid said. “Until they act, we’re going to do nothing,” he said, adding that he has told Republicans that “we are not going to have them hold the CR or the debt ceiling hostage to Obamacare.”
“None of the Republicans are willing to stand up to these anarchists,” he said, referring to conservatives pushing for a shutdown if Obamacare is not defunded.