Schumer: GOP bluffing on debt limit

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) says Republican threats to allow the debt limit to expire next year have no credibility.

Democrats are confident the debt limit will not give Republicans the same leverage they had in 2011, when they forced nearly $1 trillion in discretionary spending cuts.

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"I think they learned their lesson with the debt ceiling, I don’t think it’s leverage for them at all,” Schumer told reporters Wednesday.

Schumer said public opinion tipped in Democrats’ favor in 2011 after the summer standoff over the debt limit.

“The whole thing turned around when it looked like they’d be willing to let the United States forgo its payment of debt in 2011. The whole thing turned around and we began to get the upper hand,” he said.

“I think they’ve learned that mistake and any talk that that is leverage for them is false,” he added.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also dismissed the threat of the debt limit at his first press conference after the election.

“They've tried it before: ‘We're going to shut down the government and we're not going to raise the debt ceiling,’ ” Reid said of House Republicans. “They want to go through that again, fine. But we're not — we're not going to be held subject to something that was done as a matter of fact in all previous administrations,” he said.

This confidence has emboldened Democratic leaders to stick to their demands for tax increases.

Schumer told reporters any deal to avoid the fiscal cliff would have to raise the top income tax rates to the levels they were at during the Clinton administration.

"We ran an election on that issue, we campaigned on it and the American people are for it," Schumer said. "So the logic here is very, very simple. Speaker [John] Boehner should go to the top rate."

Schumer rejected speculation that President Obama might be willing to accept a compromise that would raise the top rate from 35 percent to 37 or 38 percent, instead of the Clinton-era level of 39.6.

“I think we have to go to 39.6,” he said. “The reason many of our Republican colleagues are unwilling to document where they would have the tax expenditure savings is once you don’t go to the 39.6, it’s very hard for them to get the kind of revenues needed.”

Schumer also said any grand deficit-reduction bargain will have to include at least $1.6 trillion in higher tax revenues, the number included in Obama’s offer to GOP leaders.

“I think it’s very hard to get the large deal, the $4 trillion deal, without $1.6 trillion in revenues,” Schumer said.

House Republican conservatives, however, say their threat to block the debt limit increase is not a bluff.

“I don’t think the American people are saying the debt is not a problem,” said Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.).

“Either we do it now and get ahead of it or we face it in a panic three or four years from now,” he said. “This is face it now or face it later.”

Lankford said a majority of his Republican colleagues feel the same way.