House Democrat calls for taking away debt limit authority from Congress

Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.)
Greg Nash

A House Democrat on Wednesday called for a “long-term solution” to the impasse over avoiding a debt default later this month in the form of taking the near-annual fight out of the hands of members of Congress altogether.

Senate Democrats indicated earlier Wednesday that they will likely accept an offer from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to raise the debt limit for two months to prevent a potential economic crisis.

Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), along with House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), introduced legislation last week that would transfer the duty of raising the debt limit from Congress to the secretary of the Treasury so that lawmakers wouldn’t have to repeatedly fight over preventing a catastrophic default anymore. 

“While I welcome this change in stance from Sen. McConnell, we need a long-term solution to our debt ceiling dysfunction. It’s time to end the debt limit as we know it,” Boyle tweeted Wednesday.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that the U.S. is on track to default on its debts by Oct. 18 without congressional action.

Last week she endorsed the idea of abolishing the federal debt limit, arguing that the Treasury Department should be able to ensure it can pay for existing spending obligations already enacted by Congress and the president.

“I believe it’s very destructive to the president and myself, the Treasury secretary, in the situation where we might be unable to pay the bills that result from those past decisions,” Yellen said in testimony before the House Financial Services Committee. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki declined to comment on Wednesday as to whether President Biden agrees with Yellen on potential debt limit reforms, saying only that they are currently focused on ensuring the debt limit is raised before the Oct. 18 deadline.

“Right now, our focus is on raising the debt ceiling in the limited amount of time we have left to do that,” Psaki said during a briefing with reporters. “There’s plenty of time to have a conversation after that.”

McConnell has for months vowed that Republicans would not vote to prevent a debt default because they want Democrats to act alone using the budget reconciliation process that is not subject to a filibuster.

Democrats are using the same process to enact their sweeping package to expand social safety net programs like paid family leave and child care as well as efforts to mitigate climate change.

But using the reconciliation process for the debt limit means that Democrats would likely have to undergo a time-consuming process of potentially unlimited amendment votes in the Senate, as well as specify a number the debt limit would be raised instead of unilaterally “suspending” it for a period of time. 

Top Democrats have insisted they have no interest in using reconciliation to address the debt limit.

Another idea floated by some Democrats earlier this week was to create an exemption from the filibuster on bills related to the debt limit. But it’s not clear that centrist Democrats who have resisted calls this year to eliminate the legislative filibuster would agree to a special carveout that might increase pressure for getting rid of it altogether. 

The House, meanwhile, passed a stand-alone bill last week that would suspend the debt limit until mid-December of next year. Lawmakers in the lower chamber had also previously passed a bill to fund the government through Dec. 3 that included the same debt limit suspension, but that provision was stripped out last week to ensure there wouldn’t be a federal government shutdown.  

Tags debt ceiling Debt limit Janet Yellen Jen Psaki Joe Biden John Yarmuth Mitch McConnell
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