President Joe Biden and White House officials are still deferring to congressional leadership on the debt ceiling, despite a looming Dec. 15 deadline and potential roadblocks from both House Republicans and Democrats.
White House officials tell the Washington Examiner that they have been in contact with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on the topic in recent weeks and are "encouraged" by the possibility of addressing the debt ceiling in the National Defense Authorization Act. Senior Democratic aides say that both chambers of Congress could come to an agreement on including a debt hike in the NDAA this week and hold a vote shortly thereafter.
One official said that attaching a debt vote to the bipartisan Pentagon budget would come close to accomplishing Biden's "objective" for the debate from the get-go, namely by avoiding an "apocalyptic showdown" every "18 months or so."
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That person added that Democratic aides are hopeful to vote on the hike as soon as possible, as the closer to the Dec. 15 deadline Congress gets, the higher the probability of market unsteadiness and, in the worst-case scenario, an accidental default.
Still, the White House has yet to publicly confirm the exact nature of its involvement in the process and what it specifically is asking for in those talks with Hill leaders.
"I don't have any calls to read out for you, but we are encouraged by the conversations that are happening between Leader Schumer and Senator McConnell about how to address a range of issues that are in front of Congress, including the debt limit," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in Friday's press briefing. "Beyond that, I don't have any update from here."
"The debt limit is about paying the bills that are already due. Right? And so, our preference is always to do that through regular order and just raise the debt limit to ensure that we are protecting the full faith and credit of the United States government," she continued. "The president is encouraged by the conversations between Leader Schumer and Senator McConnell. And what his hope is, is that we can, through regular order, raise the debt limit, as has been done 81 times in the past, so we don’t play around with the full faith and credit of the United States."
Schumer also thanked McConnell on the floor of the Senate on Monday for his "cooperation" in addressing the debt but did not elaborate on the legislative path forward.
Schumer says on the floor that they will work to address the debt limit & thanked McConnell “for his cooperation in that regard"— Ali Zaslav (@alizaslav) December 6, 2021
It's still unclear how the leaders plan to move forward to address it before the looming Dec 15 deadline
Furthermore, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who has called for Democrats addressing the debt without Republican votes, outright shot down the possibility of using the NDAA to raise the debt limit at his Friday press conference. White House officials did not answer questions from the Washington Examiner if McCarthy has been involved in their debt ceiling talks.
"I don't just think it's Republicans opposed to that," McCarthy said in response to a question from Punchbowl News's Jake Sherman on the topic. "Democrats can't pass the NDAA on their own. Even in discussions with Democrat staff, they don't think they could pass it."
McCarthy was referencing the 38 House Democrats who took a principled vote against the NDAA in September over concerns about the size of the Pentagon's budget. Democratic leadership would need to convince a large number of them to vote "yes" this time around, as a portion of the more than 70 Republican "yea" votes in September would heed McCarthy's example and vote "no" this time.
"Democrats have the ability of one-party rule to get this done. They have the ability to get it done in the Senate without having any Republicans to do it, and what have they done to make it happen?" McCarthy continued. "We knew this had to take place, and at the same time that it needs to take place, the Democrats want to add trillions of dollars in spending. Why haven't they taken care of this? Why do they put the financial jeopardy of America on the line? I don't get it. Now, they want to do some gimmick. I don't think anyone's going to abide by a gimmick. If they believe spending $5 trillion makes America stronger, they should vote for it. They have the ability to do it through reconciliation."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters on Monday, however, that he expects the debt ceiling vote to take place this week but said that leadership is weighing a number of legislative vehicles, not just the NDAA proposal.
“I expect to do it, and I hope to do it this week," he stated. "And we are working toward that objective."
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen previously testified that the "X Date," the day on which the Department of Treasury would exhaust all measures to avoid broaching the debt ceiling, would come on Dec. 15. While some economic analysts believe the U.S. would not effectively run out of money until early January, Shai Akabas, director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said Monday that absolutely would not be the case.
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"Those who believe the debt limit can safely be pushed to the back of the December legislative pileup are misinformed," he said in a statement. "Congress would be flirting with financial disaster if it leaves for the holiday recess without addressing the debt limit."