Biden tells GOP lawmakers to “just get out of the way” on debt ceiling

President Biden slammed Republicans Monday for refusing to help raise the debt ceiling, and he asked them to step aside if they’re not willing to vote with Democrats to stop the nation from going into default.

“Republicans just have to let us do our job. Just get out of the way,” he said at the White House. “If you don’t want to help save the country, get out of the way, so you don’t destroy it.”  

The president said Democrats are willing to raise the debt ceiling alone this week but Republicans are stopping them, having blocked two attempts to suspend the debt limit in just the last week. Last Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer asked the Senate to agree to allow a simple majority to vote to raise the debt limit, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell objected, thereby blocking the vote from taking place.

In a letter to Mr. Biden on Monday, McConnell reiterated Republicans would not help raise the debt limit, and Democrats would have to do it on their own, a stance Republicans have taken since mid-July.

“The debt limit is often a partisan vote during times of unified government. In 2003, 2004, and 2006, Mr. President, you joined Senate Democrats in opposing debt limit increases and made Republicans do it ourselves,” the letter read. “You explained on the Senate floor that your ‘no’ votes did not mean you wanted the majority to let the country default, but rather that the President’s party had to take responsibility for a policy agenda which you opposed. Your view then is our view now.”

Mr. Biden on Monday addressed his past votes, saying it was a straight up and down vote and the Senate was not requiring 60 votes at the time or threatening a filibuster. 

The U.S. is rapidly closing in on its debt limit — which could happen in about two weeks — risking default for the first time in U.S. history and economic catastrophe.

“Raising the debt limit comes down to paying what we already owe, what has already been acquired, not anything new,” Mr. Biden said. “It starts with a simple truth. The United States is a nation that pays its bills and always has from its inception.”

The president accused GOP senators of obstruction, calling their efforts “hypocritical, dangerous and disgraceful.” He said the easiest way to address the debt limit quickly would be to vote on a clean measure this week, but Republicans have threaten to filibuster — forcing Democrats to find 60 votes in the Senate, which they do not have, since the Senate is evenly divided, 50-50.

“They won’t raise it even though defaulting on the debt would lead to self-inflicted wound that takes our economy over a cliff and risks jobs, and retirement savings, Social Security benefits, salaries for service members, benefits for veterans and so much more,” Biden said.

The president argued the Senate should pass a measure already approved in the House to raise the debt limit and pushed back at Republicans suggesting they use a longer reconciliation process to pass it.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned lawmakers the U.S. will reach its debt ceiling on roughly October 18, just 14 days away. She and other officials are warning of catastrophic economic consequences if the U.S. does not suspend or raise the debt limit by that time and the country goes into default on debt obligations. 

“At that point, we expect Treasury would be left with very limited resources that would be depleted quickly,” Yellen said last week in a letter to leaders in Congress. 

The U.S. has never defaulted on its debt. It has raised or suspended the debt ceiling nearly 80 times since 1960. President Biden pointed out that it was suspended three times under President Trump, even as the debt grew. 

“Their obstruction and irresponsibility knows absolutely no bounds,” Biden said.

The president’s remarks come as his legislative agenda remains in limbo. Liberal and moderate Democrats could not reach an agreement over a spending bill to expand the social safety net last week. It also held up a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill as had been planned last week, since progressives threatened to tank it without the larger spending bill completed. Senator Joe Manchin, a key vote in a 50-50 Senate, says his topline figure is $1.5 trillion, much smaller than the $3.5 trillion originally proposed. 

During his remarks, Mr. Biden said that his proposals included plans to pay for them that would not add to the debt.

He vowed to “work like hell” to get it all done. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he thinks Democrats can finish both bills in the next month.