Schumer and Jeffries trash GOP ‘hostage’ plan on debt ceiling

WASHINGTON — If Republicans want to take America’s debt limit hostage, they should at least have some concrete demands, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries said in their first joint Capitol Hill news conference Wednesday as the bosses of their party.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned earlier this month that the nation has already reached the $31.4 trillion debt limit that restricts the Treasury’s ability to issue more debt to pay the nation’s bills, and that the country risks default if Congress doesn’t raise it by June.

While the debt limit covers spending and tax cuts that Congress voted for in the past, Republicans have warned that they will not vote to raise the limit — and spark a historic default — if Democrats don’t agree to massive cuts in the future.

Some conservative Democrats like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and numerous Republicans have already called on the White House to start negotiating a deal.

But Schumer and Jeffries scoffed at both the idea of caving to GOP threats to cause what economists warn would be an economic catastrophe and negotiating when Republicans themselves have made no formal proposals for cuts.

“There’s a difference between negotiation and blackmail,” Jeffries said. “What they’re essentially saying on the other side of the aisle is, ‘We will detonate Social Security, detonate Medicare, detonate veterans benefits, or possibly even risk a catastrophic default for the first time in American history that will send us spiraling toward a deep recession, if not a depression, unless you cave into our extreme MAGA Republican demands.’ ”

Schumer pointed out, though, that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy doesn’t even have any actual proposals to negotiate.

“Until Speaker McCarthy has a plan, and a plan that can pass in the House with his Republican support, his going to the White House is like going with no cards in his hand,” Schumer said. “”Since McCarthy and many Republicans are playing brinksmanship, holding hostages ... it’s incumbent on them to show, ‘OK, what’s your plan?’”

“We have a plan,” Schumer said. “Pass the debt ceiling without hostage taking, without any brinksmanship. What’s their plan? They haven’t shown it.”

While Republicans have not offered any formal proposals, they have suggested funding the 2024 budget at the same level as 2022 — an idea that McCarthy embraced as part of his effort to win the speakership. Such a plan would require cuts of more than $130 billion, and Republicans themselves are not united on it.

The two Brooklyn natives, who each climbed from public schools to the top of the Democratic Party in the House and Senate, held the news conference to mock another idea gaining traction on the far right — to replace all income taxes in America with a 30% national sales tax, which they noted would be devastating to regular people from their home borough and around the nation.

The pair called it a “tax scam,” “a real doozy,” the “craziest yet,” and “the biggest lollapalooza I have ever seen around here.”

Schumer said a tax plan that so dramatically harms the middle class and seniors on fixed incomes would never pass the Senate, but said he and Jeffries wanted to highlight it to make sure it dies.

“Everyone thought that Leader McCarthy would never go along with the MAGA Republicans as he ran for speaker, and now he is still committed to them,” Schumer said. “I don’t underestimate the power over McCarthy of these extreme MAGA Republicans.”

Jeffries said Americans need to see what Republicans are about.

“You wonder, like, who’s sitting in some dungeon, some laboratory, some basement cooking up these extreme ideas to try to jam them down the throats of the American people?” Jeffries said. “But that’s what’s happening. And it’s part of the House Republican agenda, which is why we’re speaking out against it.”