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Biden slams 'irresponsible' Republican effort to block an increase to the debt limit, potentially pushing the US to an unprecedented and catastrophic default

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US President Joe Biden speaks during a virtual briefing by Federal Emergency Management Agency officials on preparations for Hurricane Ida, in the South Court auditorium of the White House in Washington, DC, on August 28, 2021. Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

President Joe Biden said on Saturday that Republican efforts to block the US' ability to pay its bills on time would be "unconscionable."

Congress has about two weeks to raise or suspend the debt ceiling to avert what could be a catastrophic hit to the economy, ranging from delays in Social Security checks to seniors, turmoil in financial markets, cuts to safety net programs, and even a spike in interest rates.

Republicans, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have signaled they could try to block the effort to lift the debt ceiling and torpedo Biden's economic goals. McConnell has remained adamant that raising the debt limit is something only Democrats must do. The US has never before defaulted on its debts.

"I hope that Republicans won't be so irresponsible as to refuse to raise the debt limit and to filibuster," Biden told reporters on Saturday. "That would be totally unconscionable. That's never been done before."

Raising the debt ceiling allows the US government to pay back what it owes, and the limit had to be lifted this year regardless of Biden's spending plans. Democrats are pressing Republicans to help raise it, arguing another $7.8 trillion in debt was racked up under President Donald Trump. Republicans also raised or suspended the debt limit three times under the Trump administration.

Democrats' best bet for lifting the debt ceiling on their own is reconciliation, an arduous, time-consuming procedure governed by strict budgetary rules. It also allows certain bills to be passed with just a 50-vote majority.

Biden said on Saturday that "everybody is frustrated" following a week of setbacks and squabbles over the debt limit and his economic agenda, but he added that he's confident both an infrastructure bill and a $3.5 trillion social spending bill will ultimately be passed by Congress.

Democrats need to keep the government funded while also keeping their promises to pass a $550 billion investment in US roads, bridges, and railroads as well as funding for childcare, healthcare, and fighting climate change. Two moderate Democratic senators are uneasy with the magnitude of the proposed changes and want the $3.5 trillion social spending bill to be trimmed.

Biden said he is "going to work like hell to make sure we get both these passed," adding that both plans have the support of a majority of Americans.

"There's nothing in any of these pieces of legislation that's radical, that is unreasonable," he said, adding he would travel the country to win more support for both bills. "I believe I can get this done."

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