Senate

McConnell privately urged GOP senators to oppose debt ceiling hike

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) privately urged Republican senators to vote against raising the debt ceiling as Congress barrels toward a fiscal cliff next month.

McConnell's private ask - confirmed to The Hill by a GOP senator and leadership aide - underscores how personally invested he is in the standoff against Democrats over the debt ceiling and comes as he's warned publicly that Republicans won't provide the votes needed to raise or suspend it.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) told The Hill that McConnell has in recent weeks privately asked Republicans to vote against increasing the debt ceiling, characterizing the pitch to GOP senators as "I want you to vote this particular way."

"He's not bluffing," Kennedy said of McConnell's pledge that Republicans won't help raise the debt ceiling.

A GOP leadership aide confirmed that McConnell had privately urged Republicans to oppose increasing the debt ceiling. The aide noted that McConnell got a "standing ovation" from GOP senators when he laid out what their position would be.

McConnell's decision to lean on GOP senators, which both the aide and Kennedy noted had happened in recent weeks, comes as Congress is set to need to raise the ceiling next month the avoid default.

Congress, under the then-Trump administration, suspended the debt ceiling in 2019. The borrowing limit kicked back in on August 1, but the Treasury Department has been using so-called "extraordinary measures" to keep the government solvent since then.

Republicans are trying to force Democrats to "own" the debt hike over frustration tied to Democrats' plans to pass a $3.5 trillion spending bill under budget reconciliation, a process that lets them bypass needing 60 votes in the Senate.

Republicans want Democrats to raise the debt ceiling as part of that spending package.

But Democrats are so far refusing to link the two, arguing that the debt ceiling vote should be bipartisan.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) instead announced on Monday that they will include a debt ceiling suspension through 2022 in a short-term government funding bill that Congress needs to pass by the end of the month in order to prevent a shutdown.

Though Democrats will be able to pass the package on their own in the House, they will need the support of at least 10 GOP senators to get it over a filibuster threat in the Senate.

They appear, for now, unlikely to overcome that hurdle but haven't outlined what their next steps would be.

Kennedy said on Monday that he would "probably" vote for the funding-debt package because it will also include natural disaster relief. Louisiana, Kennedy's home state, was devastated by Hurricane Ida earlier this month and is also feeling the effects of Hurricane Nicholas, which made landfall in Texas last week.

But other Republicans aren't expected to follow. Forty-six GOP senators signed a letter last month warning that they would not support raising the debt ceiling either as a stand-alone bill or tied to something else.

Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, didn't sign the letter but said that he would oppose the continuing resolution-debt ceiling package. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who also didn't sign the letter, said on Monday that she could support a "clean" funding bill, meaning one without the debt tied to it.

McConnell also said on Monday that Republicans would support a short-term funding bill - but only if Democrats dropped the debt ceiling from the legislation.

"Senate Republicans would support a clean continuing resolution that included appropriate disaster relief and targeted Afghan assistance. We will not support legislation that raises the debt limit," McConnell said from the Senate floor.

Outbrain