All but four Republican senators have signed a pledge that they will not vote to raise the debt ceiling, sending another warning to Democrats that they are on their own on the pressing issue.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) circulated a letter during the chamber’s vote-a-rama on the $3.5 trillion budget resolution Wednesday, signing up a majority of his fellow Republicans in an effort to link the Democrats’ proposed spending package with the statutory debt limit imposed on the federal government by Congress, which covers spending that has already been approved and must be paid by the U.S. Treasury.
In the letter, which is addressed to “Our Fellow Americans,” the Republican signatories claim that Democrats are responsible for increased federal spending and so must be responsible for raising the debt limit. “We will not vote to increase the debt ceiling, whether that increase comes through a stand-alone bill, a continuing resolution, or any other vehicle,” the letter says. “Democrats, at any time, have the power through reconciliation to unilaterally raise the debt ceiling, and they should not be allowed to pretend otherwise.”
The Republicans who didn’t sign the letter are Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Richard Shelby of Alabama.
Why now: A two-year suspension of the debt ceiling expired at the end of July, forcing the U.S. Treasury to begin taking “extraordinary measures” to keep paying its bills as it waits for Congress to either raise or suspend the limit before the country is forced to default. Democrats opted not to include an increase in the debt ceiling in their budget resolution, which would have made it possible to raise the limit without Republican support, though they still have the option of revising the resolution to include such a provision.
What Democrats say: Democrats point out that much of the increased debt in recent years was produced during former President Trump’s administration. “I cannot believe that Republicans would let the country default,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Wednesday. “It has always been bipartisan to deal with the debt ceiling. When Trump was president I believe the Democrats joined with him to raise it three times.”
President Biden told reporters Wednesday that trillions in debt were added “on the Republicans’ watch” but said he was confident that the GOP would act in time. “They are not going to let us default,” he said.
The bottom line: No one expects Congress to allow the U.S. to default, but it looks like we could be in for a high-stakes game of chicken in the coming weeks — and the markets are starting to notice. According to Reuters Wednesday, “Some U.S. Treasury bill yields are beginning to reflect concerns that lawmakers may wait until the last minute to increase or suspend the debt ceiling.”