Congress is out of session until early September but Republican leaders are looking at a potential firestorm over the debt ceiling when they return.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) are leaning toward passing a “clean” debt ceiling increase before the government exceeds its borrowing authority on Sept. 29, but that will put them at odds with many rank-and-file Republicans.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC) has proposed including $250 billion in spending cuts or debt prioritization changes as conditions of any deal to raise the debt ceiling. Ryan could rely on House Democrats to pass a clean debt ceiling bill – and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has implored Congress to pass a no-strings-attached increase – but Freedom Caucus members say Ryan won’t be able to count on their support on other pressing issues like tax reform if he goes this route.
“It would be extremely difficult for a Republican speaker to put forward a clean debt ceiling and look his conference in the face and believe [that’s] a job well done,” Meadows told reporters this week.
Republican senators have a different take, particularly given that they know they will need some Democratic cooperation to get 60 votes for a debt ceiling increase in that chamber.
“We shouldn’t even play with that,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT). “It should just be clean. Some conservatives think they can get some programs cut. Well that’s not going to happen. We have to pay our bills and anybody who doesn’t want to do that doesn’t deserve to be here.”
Meanwhile, Democrats have stayed relatively quiet on their strategy, other than to say that the GOP controls both Congress and the White House so it’s their responsibility to act responsibly and increase the debt ceiling.
“You know what? They are in charge,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) told POLITICO. “They have a majority in the House and in the Senate and the White House so they have to make the decisions governing. We’ll work with them but they’re going to have to step up.”