House Democrats late Monday argued that raising the government's debt ceiling won't increase the national debt at all, and is more fiscally responsible than doing nothing.
"The debt ceiling does not grow our deficit by one single dime," said Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.). "Rather, what it does is permit the government to pay what this Congress has already decided to spend."
Democrats have long argued that raising the debt ceiling would simply give the government the authority to borrow money to fund policy decisions that Congress has already made. For that reason, Payne and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) said it's more responsible to raise the ceiling than to freeze it in place.
"Raising the debt ceiling is in fact the fiscally responsible thing to do here," Payne said. "If we default, the cost to American families will be significant. Twenty-six million Americans won't get their Social Security checks on March 3rd."
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said the debt ceiling is not designed to let the President spend more. "It is a backward looking vehicle designed to give the President the opportunity to pay bills that the Congress has already incurred," he said.
Later, Rep. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) agreed that a debt ceiling hike "doesn't grow our deficits by a single dime."
The CBC's arguments were the first floor salvo on their side of an issue that could come to a head this week, as GOP leaders have tentatively set a Wednesday vote on a debt ceiling bill. However, it was not clear as of Monday night whether enough Republicans supported the plan to pass a clean increase that also repeals a $6 billion cut to military pensions.
Republicans have tried for the last few years to use the debt ceiling as leverage to win spending concessions, and have argued that constantly increasing the ceiling allows Congress to continue running budget deficits.
Just before the CBC spoke on the floor, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) argued that the House should attach a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution to legislation expanding the debt ceiling. King also said there's no risk of a default, as there is enough money coming into the govenrment to continue paying interest on the debt and other obligations.