Senate Democrats don’t know yet how they’ll deal with the debt-limit increase when it lands in their laps in a few weeks. But they are starting to settle on new rhetoric designed to give them political cover: By embracing the budget plan produced by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Democrats contend, the GOP already did agree to raise the limit.
Faced with an unpopular vote over raising the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, Democrats want to make the case that House Republicans already endorsed an increase to the national borrowing limit of $1.9 trillion over the next year when they voted to adopt the Ryan budget. Included in the ambitious 10-year budget plan is the assumption that the “appropriate” level of debt by 2021 would be $23.1 trillion.
“The bottom line is that the Ryan budget calls for significant increases in the debt ceiling,” New York Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told POLITICO Friday. “So for Republicans to talk about getting their debt lower and not raising the debt ceiling when their own proposal raises it significantly shows that they’re really talking out of both sides of their mouth. … They just ought to extend the debt ceiling, stop the charade and we should negotiate a serious debt-reduction package.”
House Republicans are vowing to oppose an up-or-down vote on the debt limit. Democrats themselves are divided over whether to join the GOP or stick behind President Barack Obama.
“To them, extending tax cuts on the very wealthy is more important than getting the debt ceiling down,” said Schumer, the Democrats’ message chief. “If they didn’t do that, their 10-year number would be a whole lot lower.”
But Schumer wouldn’t say whether Democrats would insist on a “clean” increase.
“I’m not going to get into our strategy,” Schumer said.
Congress is in the middle of a two-week Easter recess, but lawmakers will have the fight over the national debt limit waiting for them when they return. The Treasury Department has warned that the debt limit must be increased soon, otherwise the country will begin to default on its loans. It contends that a deficit-reduction package should be dealt with separately.
Republicans have had numerous strategy sessions to figure out how to demand maximum concessions from Democrats, many of whom are worried how the vote will play in their reelection contests.
But Senate Democrats have had few substantive strategy discussions, several sources say. As a result, Republicans say, Schumer is lurching from message to message over the issue.
Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), scoffed at Schumer’s attacks.
“The Ryan budget will preserve and protect Medicare and Medicaid while putting us on a path to pay down the national debt,” Steel said. “The president’s budget would increase the debt – year after year. Senate Democrats, led by Sen. Schumer, have not offered a budget at all – again. If Sen. Schumer wants to be a serious factor in this debate, he should spend less time throwing stones and more time crunching numbers.”
The Ryan budget, which was adopted on a party-line 235-189 vote in the House this month, would slash spending by $6.2 trillion over the next decade, compared with the president’s initial budget request.