McConnell suggests early February deadline for passage of debt-ceiling bill

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pivoted Wednesday from the "fiscal cliff" to the fight over raising the debt ceiling.

McConnell, who brokered the New Year’s Eve deal to turn off most of the fiscal cliff’s tax increases with Vice President Biden, called on the Senate to pass a debt-ceiling compromise by early February.

“Washington’s credit card has reached its limit again, and the Senate majority must act on legislation early in February — rather than waiting until the last minute, abdicating responsibility and hoping someone else will step in once again to craft a last-minute solution for them,” McConnell said.

The U.S. reached its $16.4 billion credit limit on Dec. 31. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has begun to shuffle obligations around to avoid a default on the debt, but those measures can only be used for a matter of weeks.

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For the GOP, the debt-ceiling fight comes at an opportune time. They are eager to trade in a losing hand in the fiscal cliff fight — where tax increases were set to take effect automatically — to what it sees as a winning hand on entitlement reforms and the deficit. 

McConnell made clear that an increase in the debt ceiling must be accompanied by big spending cuts. In 2011, the GOP won $2.1 trillion in spending reductions in exchange for a debt ceiling increase of an equal amount.

“Now that the House and Senate have acted in a bipartisan way to prevent tax increases on 99 percent of the American people, Democrats now have the opportunity — and the responsibility — to join Republicans in a serious effort to reduce Washington’s out-of-control spending,” McConnell said. 

President Obama has vowed he will not negotiate over the borrowing limit again.

“While I will negotiate over many things, I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they’ve already racked up through the laws that they passed,” Obama said on Tuesday night. 

But McConnell said the debt ceiling increase gives Obama an opportunity to fulfill his promise to pursue a "balanced" approached to cutting the deficit. Given that the fiscal cliff deal generates more than $600 billion in tax revenue, McConnell said, it's time for the president to look at the other side of the ledger. 

“The president claims to want a balanced approach to solve our problems. And now that he has the tax rates he wants, his calls for ‘balance’ mean he must join us in our efforts to achieve meaningful spending and government reform,” he said.