Biden says GOP playing 'Russian roulette' in debt-ceiling battle

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President Biden on Monday said Senate Republicans are playing “Russian roulette” with the U.S. economy by delaying a vote to raise the debt ceiling, and called on the GOP to "get out of the way" so Democrats can do it themselves.

“We're not expecting Republicans to do their part. We’re just asking them not to use procedural tricks to block us from doing the job they won’t do,” Biden said in remarks at the White House. Addressing Republicans, he said, “You don't want to help save the country? Get out of the way so you don’t destroy it.”

And Biden warned Americans that if a solution in Congress is not reached, “as soon as this week, your savings in your pocketbook could be directly impacted by this Republican stunt.”

Joe Biden
President Biden delivers remarks about the need for Congress to raise the debt limit. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

He also spoke of interest rates going up and a broader economic crisis unless the debt limit is raised.

Related: Everything you need to know about the debt-ceiling fight >>>

The debt ceiling is the limit on how much the U.S. government can borrow to pay for what it has already spent and owes to creditors. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said Oct. 18 — two weeks from Monday — is the day when the government will begin defaulting on its debts, triggering an economic crisis.

In his remarks Monday, Biden made clear that he would prefer it if Democrats don't have to use a process called reconciliation to pass a debt-ceiling increase. Instead, he called on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans to stand aside rather than filibuster an attempt by Democrats to raise the ceiling.

Asked if he could guarantee that the U.S. would not default, Biden said, “I can’t. That’s up to Mitch McConnell. ... I can’t believe that that will be the end result, because the consequence is so dire.”

But in all likelihood, Democrats will need to use reconciliation if they cannot find at least 10 Republicans to vote in favor of raising the debt limit, and soon. Any one of the 50 Senate Republicans can mount a filibuster to delay the debt-ceiling increase, and so a 60-vote supermajority is almost certainly needed to overcome that.

McConnell said in a letter to Biden on Monday that “Democrats have every necessary tool to pass a standalone debt limit increase through reconciliation and enough time to do it before late October.”

So Biden’s message Monday appeared aimed at breaking Republican resistance to voting with Democrats on the issue, and peeling them away from McConnell. A Republican Senate aide on Monday told Yahoo News that “most [Republicans] believe [Democrats] will fold” and increase the debt ceiling through reconciliation.

Mitch McConnell
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The president also emphasized that the debt ceiling needs to be raised to pay for past spending, much of it incurred under former President Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Senate.

Republicans, meanwhile, say they oppose raising the debt ceiling now because they oppose the Democrats’ current spending plans. But Republicans raised the debt ceiling three times during Trump’s presidency, and Biden said that roughly $8 trillion was added to the national debt during that time, though some fact checkers have said the more accurate figure of debt added under Trump is closer to $7 trillion.

Democrats voted to raise the debt ceiling during the Trump presidency, despite opposing the GOP’s 2017 tax cuts. In a letter to Biden on Monday, McConnell noted that the president had voted against debt-ceiling increases when he was a senator during the George W. Bush administration.

“You explained on the Senate floor that your ‘no’ votes did not mean you wanted the majority to let the country default, but rather that the president’s party had to take responsibility for a policy agenda which you opposed,” McConnell wrote in the letter, which was published by Politico. “Your view then is our view now.”

Biden, however, said on Monday that Democrats hadn't filibustered attempts to lift the debt ceiling under Republican presidents.

Budget reconciliation offers Democrats a way to get around the filibuster and pass a debt-ceiling increase with just 51 votes, using Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker. But Biden said on Monday that that route is “fraught with all kinds of danger for miscalculation” because the timeline for how long it might take is uncertain, and it is “an incredibly complicated, cumbersome process.”

Budget experts and administration sources who have spoken to Yahoo News have said it would take about two weeks to go through reconciliation, and so that process would need to start very soon if Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Democrats were going to pursue it.

Chuck Schumer, right, with a staffer
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, right. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

McConnell has said since the summer that he would oppose a debt-ceiling increase and that he would filibuster it, and so Democrats should raise the debt ceiling through reconciliation.

But Jim Manley, who was an aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said Biden’s messaging may have been intended to increase pressure on Republicans to join Democrats in voting for an increase. Some Democrats have told Yahoo News that since there were 19 Republicans who voted for a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill in August, there should be 10 Republicans who can vote for a debt-ceiling increase.

And there is a fear among a few Senate Democrats who are up for reelection in 2022 about voting along party lines to raise the debt ceiling, which could make it easier for Republicans to paint them as profligate spenders. That is another factor driving Biden and Democrats away from using reconciliation.

Biden said the Senate should take up a bill passed by the House last week to raise the debt ceiling. “That’s the way to proceed,” he said.


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