President Joe Biden vowed Friday that he “will not yield” to Republicans’ plan to hold the debt ceiling hostage in exchange for cuts to Medicare and Social Security.
“If you’re worried about the economy, you need to know this,” he said in a brief speech on the economy from the White House. “Republican leadership in Congress has made it clear: they will crash the economy next year by threatening the full faith and credit of the United States, for the first time in history putting the United States in default, unless we yield to their demand to cut Social Security and Medicare.”
“Let me be really clear: I will not yield,” he added, emphasizing each word. “I will not cut Social Security, I will not cut Medicare, no matter how hard they work at it.”
In recent interviews and partly in the Republican Study Committee budget, Republicans have outlined their plans to refuse to help raise or suspend the debt ceiling in exchange for cuts to the major programs. Republicans including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) have gone on the networks to do cleanup in recent days, insisting that they only seek to “strengthen” Medicare and Social Security, and that they simply can’t keep raising the debt ceiling until the administration reins in its spending habits.
In reality, per their own policy plans, they want to raise the eligibility age of both programs, to add more means testing to Medicare and to redirect some taxes that fund Social Security to other, private alternatives.
Their arguments to support debt-ceiling brinksmanship, which they’ve rolled out repeatedly since at least 2011, are equally disingenuous. Raising the limit has nothing to do with future spending; it’s authorizing the Treasury to make good on money Congress has already appropriated. If they refuse to help raise it, the United States would default on its debts, sparking a global financial crisis.
“They’ll threaten the very foundations of the American economy if we don’t meet their demands,” Biden warned Friday.
He added, though, that he would not support a complete repeal of the debt ceiling, one of the options floated — and introduced in bills by Democratic lawmakers in both chambers — to defang this recurring Republican threat.
“No,” Biden said, chuckling. “That would be irresponsible.”
That position puts him at odds with his own Treasury Secretary, who said during a House Financial Services Committee hearing last fall that she would support such a move.
“If to finance those spending and tax decisions, it’s necessary to issue additional debt, I believe it’s very disruptive to put the president and myself, the Treasury secretary, in a situation where we might be unable to pay the bills that result from those past decisions,” Secretary Janet Yellen said.
Biden did not on Friday speak to another option some are pushing Democrats to avail themselves of during the lame duck session: raising the debt ceiling so high through reconciliation that it ceases to be a problem.
There has long been some lawmaker squeamishness about taking such a vote, as Republicans would almost certainly run attack ads falsely accusing Democrats of signing off on spending some huge amount of money. Some Democrats, though, have been on board for years.
“I’d be glad to see us get rid of the debt limit,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) told TPM during last year’s debt ceiling standoff. “It serves no purpose to restrict spending, it just creates opportunities for political gamesmanship and threats to our economy. It’s time to get rid of it.”