Finance

Mulvaney: White House hasn’t settled on debt limit strategy

Greg Nash

White House budget director Mick Mulvaney on Thursday said the administration hasn’t settled on a strategy for how to raise the debt ceiling a little more than three months before a possible deadline.

“We haven’t settled on a final way to address the debt ceiling any more than the Hill has,” Mulvaney told reporters.

Mulvaney appeared to highlight differences of opinion on how to move forward with lifting the nation’s borrowing limit, saying at one point that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin would remain the point person on the debt issue “once we settle on our policy, if we do.”

Mulvaney and Mnuchin have offered different public views on how to handle the debt hike, creating an unusual policy rift between the budget director and Treasury secretary.

{mosads}Mnuchin wants a clean hike to the debt ceiling, and has vowed to preside over a drama-free process. 

Mulvaney, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus until joining the Trump administration this year, wants to tie spending cuts or other budgetary reforms to the debt hike.

Mulvaney’s views are more in line with his former House colleagues, who have repeatedly looked to use the debt ceiling as leverage to reduce government spending. But it could be more difficult for House Republicans to leverage the debt ceiling with a Republican in the White House.

It’s not entirely clear how much time Congress has to act.

Mulvaney suggested on Thursday that Congress had until “late September” to act on the issue, which would raise the government’s legal borrowing limit and prevent it from defaulting on its debts. 

Democrats have warned that they will oppose tying spending cuts or other budgetary reforms to the debt ceiling. Republicans have often needed Democratic votes on debt hike bills in the House, and in the Senate they would need at least eight Democratic votes to clear a filibuster.

Mulvaney said he believes that there may be a workaround, however.

He said instructions for raising the debt ceiling could be included in the upcoming budget resolution. The measure would move through the Senate under special budgetary rules that prevent a Democratic filibuster — though the rules are strict and it could be tough to add the debt language.

One of the ideas being floated as a policy rider, Mulvaney said, was reform over the budgetary process, which has not functioned as designed for many years.

As for the budget, Mulvaney said that he expected serious changes from the president’s proposal. 

He said Congress may not agree to the $54 billion in proposed cuts to discretionary domestic spending, which are intended to pay for increased defense spending.

“Maybe we don’t give you all $54 billion, we may give you half of that,” Mulvaney said.

While the administration remains open to Congress working out the strategy and form of passing a budget, he added, there was one clear line: no continuing resolutions. A continuing resolution would keep 2017 spending levels intact and prevent funding for promises such as funding the president’s border wall.

“We’d be against a continuing resolution because that wouldn’t allow us to find those priorities,” Mulvaney said.

Tags debt ceiling Mick Mulvaney Steve Mnuchin
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