McConnell sets up fight over debt limit

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Sunday Republicans should oppose raising the debt limit without including a measure to reduce the nation’s debt, setting up a likely fight with Democrats, when Congress tackles the issue next month.

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“I think for the president to ask for a clean debt ceiling, when we have a debt the size of our economy is irresponsible. So, we ought to discuss adding something to his request to raise the debt ceiling that does something about the debt or produces at least something positive for our country,” he said on "Fox News Sunday."

McConnell suggested attaching approval of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline to a debt-limit increase and, when prompted, said changes to ObamaCare could also be an option.

His comments signal a potential fight next month. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has said the limit must be raised by late February to avoid default, an outcome that analysts agree would be catastrophic for the U.S. economy. McConnell said the fight wouldn't go to a default.

"We're never gonna default. The Speaker and I made that clear," he said.

Speaking immediately before McConnell on "Fox News Sunday," White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said President Obama’s position on the debt limit — that he won’t negotiate over its passage — remains the same.

“The American people should not have to pay the Republicans in Congress ransom for doing their most basic function, which is paying its bills,” he said.

McConnell said Obama’s request for a clean debt-limit increase was “unreasonable” and “irresponsible.”

“We ought to attach something significant for the country to his request to increase the debt ceiling. That’s been the pattern for 50 years, going back to the Eisenhower administration,” he said.

“I think it’s the responsible thing to do for the country, and I think he’s the one that’s being irresponsible,” McConnell added of the president.

McConnell's comments align Senate Republicans with House Republicans on the debt limit. GOP leaders in the lower chamber have indicated they also hope to gain concessions from the debt-limit fight.

And they align McConnell, at least strategically, with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a main conservative antagonist in the Senate who led the push to shut down the government over ObamaCare funding last year, and butted heads with McConnell in the process.

“Of course we should do something. We shouldn't just write a blank check,” Cruz said on CBS’s "Face the Nation," when asked whether Republicans should demand concessions to raise the debt limit.

Cruz, however, suggested those concessions should come in the form of “structural reforms,” along the lines of the Budget Control Act, which was passed during the debt-limit fight of 2011 and created across-the-board budget cuts.

“What the president is saying is he just wants a blank credit card to keep growing and growing the debt, and I think that's irresponsible. I think it's irresponsible to our kids and grandkids to stick that debt on them because we can't live within our means,” Cruz added.

But a prominent Democrat, speaking after Cruz on "Face the Nation," said — evidently unaware of McConnell's earlier comments — that he was confident that Republicans wouldn't follow Cruz into default.

"I would say this, I have good news on the debt ceiling," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). "I do not believe that Republican leaders will follow Ted Cruz over the cliff once again.”

— This piece was updated at 2:15 p.m. to reflect comment from Schumer.