President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats are entering September braced for a pitched battle with Republicans over raising or suspending the debt limit, with potentially weeks to find a path forward.
National Economic Council Deputy Director Barat Ramamurti and Ben Harris, counselor at the Treasury Department, joined the call of Senate Democratic chiefs of staff to underscore the necessity of Republicans and Democrats coming together to pass an increase or suspension of the debt limit, pointing out in the call it is a “shared responsibility” that was raised on a bipartisan basis three times under former President Donald Trump, according to a White House official.
A central point made by the administration officials was that 97% of the debt was incurred before Biden took office, including more than $1 trillion due to a Republican-passed tax cut in 2017, the official said.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, has taken a hardline stance against his conference joining with Democrats to raise or suspend the debt limit — pointing out for several weeks that Democrats could do so on their own through the process they are utilizing to advance a proposed $3.5 trillion economic and social safety net expansion package.
It was an option White House officials and Democratic leaders discussed, but chose not to pursue, according to multiple people familiar with the talks.
The Kentucky Republican and 45 of his colleagues signed a letter to Biden saying they would not vote for any increase or suspension of the debt limit. In a chamber that requires 60 votes to advance most legislation, it has set up a significant — and extraordinarily high stakes — fight in the weeks ahead.
The White House has also worked feverishly behind the scenes over the last several weeks to shape the details of that $3.5 trillion package, which makes up the heart of Biden’s more than $4 trillion legislative agenda, with the weeks ahead viewed, in the words of one official, “do or die” as they press to get that package, as well as the Senate-passed $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, to Biden’s desk.
For Biden, who is still grappling with the fallout from a chaotic and bloody final withdrawal from Afghanistan, it marks one of several critical issues on Capitol Hill to grapple with in the month of September. Officials say the President plans to shift back to an intensive focus on selling his $4 trillion domestic legislative agenda as it enters its most critical phase in Congress in the coming days.