Democrats look to make debt ceiling a winning issue

Democrats are looking to flip the script by going on offense against Senate Republicans’ refusal to raise the debt ceiling. 

The party’s latest pre-midterms strategy mirrors the GOP game plan of tying vulnerable Democratic incumbents to inflation and the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package, which has been championed by the party’s progressive flank. Like that GOP gambit, Democrats hope they can win voters over by bringing a faraway financial concept to voters’ kitchen tables.  

Democratic campaign committees have highlighted a number of local op-eds warning of the dangers of not raising the debt ceiling in competitive states like Pennsylvania, Iowa, Georgia, Wisconsin and Florida. 

“The debt ceiling isn’t just a Beltway issue, real people across the country have stakes in this fight and they would be the ones to feel the devastating effects of Republicans’ political games. Americans will not soon forget the despicable hypocrisy of Republicans who time and time again choose to play political football with the livelihoods of working families,” said Democratic National Committee (DNC) spokesperson Adonna Biel.  

The DNC also rolled out a video on Wednesday hitting Republicans over the issue, accusing Republicans of “playing games with the economy.”

Meanwhile, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) took the step of invoking Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has vowed that Republicans will not provide votes to raise the debt ceiling, suggesting he and his strategy could be used to paint GOP candidates negatively in 2022. 

“Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans are playing dangerous political games with Americans’ lives and putting our economy in jeopardy,” DSCC spokeswoman Jazmin Vargas said. “If they continue down this path GOP Senate candidates will own the horrific consequences of defaulting on America’s full faith and credit — and voters will hold them accountable in 2022.”

Meanwhile, state Democratic parties have gone on the offensive against Republican lawmakers and candidates in other hotly contested states like North Carolina.  

“North Carolina Republicans like Ted Budd need to drop the political games and do their job to protect our economy and the well-being of North Carolina families and troops,” North Carolina Democratic Party spokesperson Kate Frauenfelder said in a statement, before calling out fellow GOP Senate candidates Pat McCrory and Mark Walker for their silence on the issue.

Congress has until Oct. 18 to raise the debt ceiling, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. If it is not raised, the U.S. will default on its debt for the first time in the country’s history. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is slated to push forward a bill to suspend the debt ceiling through December 2022 on Wednesday. He will need 60 votes to break a filibuster, which means 10 GOP senators would need to side with Democrats. Republicans have repeatedly vowed not to provide those 10 votes. 

Democrats argue that Republicans are playing “Russian roulette” with the economic livelihoods of Americans by not raising the debt ceiling, pointing to economists’ warnings of catastrophic economic consequences. 

But party operatives warn the Democratic strategy involving a heavily nuanced economic issue could fall flat with voters if not communicated properly. 

“It’s hard for the debt ceiling debate issue to break through with everyday Americans until it’s truly in crisis mode,” said Tyler Law, a Democratic strategist and former national press secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. 

“But to be clear, as soon as we breach the debt ceiling, I mean, it will be an economic catastrophe,” he added.

The debt ceiling, unlike a number of other high-profile bills moving through Congress now, has Democrats united. Progressive Democrats have also hit Republicans over the refusal to raise the debt ceiling, arguing that it will become an issue if it gets in the way of passing progressive priorities like climate change and free community college.

“The debt ceiling got raised with no problems under the Trump administration,” said Paco Fabian, director of campaigns at the progressive group Our Revolution. “And now all of the sudden it’s a problem.”

Democrats have pointed to a report published by Moody’s Analytics last month that found the U.S. could lose 6 million jobs if it defaults on its debt, causing real gross domestic product to decline by almost 4 percent and the unemployment rate to hit close to 9 percent. On top of that, the report predicted that stock prices would be cut in nearly one-third, which would wipe out $15 trillion in household wealth. 

However, Republicans are brushing off the Democratic rhetoric on the debate ceiling and pointing to the fact that Democrats are the party in power on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue — a point they would almost certainly make to voters as well. 

“Democrats control all three branches of government, so voters will obviously blame them if the government defaults,” said National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Mike Berg. “If Democrats are incapable of performing basic governmental functions, they should not be in charge.” 

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who serves as the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee (NRSC), told reporters last month that GOP lawmakers would not vote to avert a default on the national debt and reiterated that Democrats would ultimately bear responsibility if the U.S. were to default on debt. 

Some Republicans say they believe Democrats will ultimately cave and raise the debt ceiling through reconciliation. Moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said on Monday that he believes Democrats should be open to the option, though Schumer says he’s ruling it out.

McConnell has said that Democrats should use reconciliation, which they are trying to use to pass the $3.5 trillion spending package through Congress. 

“Chuck Schumer has known about this issue for months,” said NRSC spokesperson T.W. Arrighi. “So the idea that the reconciliation process is going to take too long is bunk. Democrats fully control Washington and are trying to jam trillions in new spending through Congress while inflation surges. Schumer’s attempt to shift blame on the debt limit will fall on deaf ears across America.” 

Tags Charles Schumer Chuck Schumer debt ceiling Janet Yellen Joe Manchin Mark Walker Mitch McConnell Ted Budd

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