- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 6, 2023

Senate Republicans sent a strong signal to President Biden that they are aligning with House GOP demands for significant spending reforms in a deal to raise the nation’s borrowing limit.

President Biden may have been hoping veteran Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would help pressure the House GOP to back away from demands for spending cuts in exchange for lifting the nation’s borrowing limit.

But Mr. McConnell has signaled his alliance with the House Republicans on spending reductions in a new letter ahead of Tuesday’s White House debt ceiling talks.

Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, has added his name to a GOP letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer. The letter warns that Senate Republicans are “united behind the House Republican Conference in support of spending cuts and structural budget reform as a starting point for negotiations on the debt ceiling.”

It was signed by 43 GOP senators, and two other Republicans have indicated they will vote with the party to block any measure that raises the borrowing limit without spending cuts and other fiscal reforms.

The letter and Mr. McConnell’s signature on it send an unequivocal message to Democrats and the president that the Senate does not have the 60 votes needed to advance a “clean” bill to raise the debt ceiling, which Mr. Biden and Democrats are demanding.

“We have more than enough votes in the Senate to stop any bill raising the debt ceiling without substantive spending and budgetary reforms,” Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican and author of the letter, said Sunday.

Mr. Biden is scheduled to meet Tuesday with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to discuss the debt limit and Mr. McConnell, who initially planned to stay out of the talks, was summoned to the meeting as well and plans to attend.

The meeting takes place weeks after House Republicans passed legislation to temporarily suspend the borrowing limit in exchange for spending reductions and other reforms aimed at boosting the economy and increasing fiscal discipline in the federal budget.

Mr. Biden and Democrats oppose the House GOP plan, and had viewed Mr. McConnell as a veteran negotiator who might help push back against the provisions in Mr. McCarthy’s legislation.

Mr. McConnell has cut deals in the past with Democrats and Mr. Biden on debt ceiling legislation and has shown a willingness to compromise.

But this time he’s siding with the GOP-led House, which passed a debt ceiling bill that raises the borrowing limit but includes spending reductions and other fiscal reforms.

Mr. Biden, Mr. McConnell said, must strike a deal with Mr. McCarthy in order to pass a bill in both chambers. While Democrats control the Senate, most legislation, including a debt ceiling bill, requires the support of at least nine Republicans to advance if every Democrat is voting.

“Speaker McCarthy and House Republicans are the only people in Washington who have actually passed legislation to avoid default,” Mr. McConnell said. “Whatever President Biden and Speaker McCarthy can both agree to will pass the Senate easily. Any bill that doesn’t meet that description appears to have no chance.”

Mr. Biden will sit down with Congressional leaders days after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned the federal government would run out of money to pay the nation’s bills as early as June 1 unless Congress acts to raise the borrowing limit.

Ms. Yellen warned Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that “financial and economic chaos would ensue,” if lawmakers do not act swiftly to give the federal government more borrowing power.

Democrats argue there should be no negotiations to raise the debt limit, now capped at $31.4 trillion, because the money is used to pay for past spending.

They are calling on Republicans to agree to pass a bill to raise the borrowing limit with no spending reforms attached and say the House GOP legislation would cut vital programs and services, including health care and public safety. 

“They’re trying to hold the debt hostage to us to agree to some draconian cuts, magnificently difficult and damaging cuts,” Mr. Biden said Friday.

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

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