Hoyer: Dems not expecting debt-limit fight in December

Hoyer: Dems not expecting debt-limit fight in December
© Greg Nash

A top House Democrat said Tuesday that he’s not expecting another vote on the debt limit this year.

“I don’t think the Republicans will have to deal with the debt limit extension in December,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the minority whip, told reporters in the Capitol. “I think what they’re going to be dealing with is simply keeping the government open and funded.”

Hoyer's remarks are the latest part of a tango on Capitol Hill over who won the most leverage in last week's surprise deal, which saw President Trump agree with Democrats to a short-term debt limit hike and government-funding deal, which were packaged with legislation to help communities hit by Hurricane Harvey.

Democrats hailed the deal last week, arguing they'd scored a major victory since Republicans had gone in asking for an 18-month debt limit extension. The GOP then lowered their offer to six months, only to see Democrats demand a three-month deal that was then agreed to by Trump.

Democrats cast this as a significant victory, since the GOP had sought to extend the debt hike until after next year's midterm elections.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP lambasts Trump over performance in Helsinki Overnight Defense: Washington reeling from Trump, Putin press conference Feehery: The long game MORE (R-Ky.) has since argued that the Democrats didn't get much of a victory, since the Treasury could use extraordinary measures to extend the period at which the debt limit would have to be hiked into next year — and probably until March.

“I can safely say the debt ceiling and the spending issue in December will be decoupled because the debt ceiling will not come up until sometime in 2018,” McConnell told The New York Times on Monday.

But Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThis week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Red-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (D-N.Y.) fired back on Tuesday, saying if that was the case, McConnell had simply agreed to a deal that would give Democrats leverage in December, when the Republican-controlled Congress and White House seek legislation to keep the government open, and again next year when the debt ceiling needs to be raised. 

"If they used extraordinary measures to extend the debt ceiling, there would be two cliffs instead of one," Schumer told reporters during a conference call.

Hoyer on Tuesday was quick to note that because Republicans have been unable to rally 2018 votes behind major fiscal bills, the Democrats will have leverage in December even if the government funding proposal is the only legislation to be considered.

“They have not passed a major fiscal bill without significant Democratic votes. So, yes … without the debt limit, we have leverage — leverage in the sense that they need our votes,” Hoyer said. “They’re in charge — it’s their responsibility — we’ll see whether they can exercise it.

“If they can’t, we are prepared to exercise it with them, to help them. But [only] if we can reach agreement on policies that we believe are positive for the country.”

The three-month debt limit increase has raised eyebrows among some Democrats, who have advocated longer-term borrowing extensions in order to foster certainty in global markets and reduce the odds of a government default.

Each additional vote on the debt ceiling creates a new potential that the measure would fail, especially given the opposition from conservative fiscal hawks who remain unconvinced a government default would translate into economic disaster.

Pelosi last week rejected the notion that the short-term debt limit hike increases economic uncertainty, since the Democrats can act as a fail-safe to push the next extension through — as long as GOP leaders bring it to the floor.

“We’re not going to let the government default,” she said. “They haven’t said that. They don’t have the votes. That’s why: three months.”