Finance

Mnuchin says debt ceiling deal 'close'

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Monday expressed optimism that Congress will agree to a deal that includes raising the debt ceiling in the coming weeks.

Mnuchin addressed reporters from the White House briefing room, where he said he's had "productive talks" with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and that Democrats, Republicans and the White House are all in agreement that packaging a budget deal and a debt ceiling increase "is the first choice."

"I think we're very close to a deal. But as you know these deals are complicated," Mnuchin said.

If lawmakers are unable to come to an agreement before the start of August recess, Mnuchin said he would expect them to either "stick around or raise the debt ceiling" as part of a standalone measure.

"Of course I expect the debt ceiling to be raised on time because I would say ... there's no uncertainty that neither party nor anybody wants to put the credit risk of the United States government at risk," Mnuchin said. "So yes, I expect that the debt ceiling will be raised."

Mnuchin sent letters to congressional leadership Friday warning that the government could run out of money in early September unless Congress votes to raise the debt ceiling before leaving for the August recess. 

The House is set to leave town on July 26; the Senate is scheduled to be in session through Aug. 2.

On Saturday night, Pelosi suggested in a letter to Mnuchin that the caps deal should include a budget adjustment for the VA MISSION act. Democrats have fretted over a GOP decision to count the $9 billion in costs associated with the act under the budget cap, which would require offsetting the spending.

In her letter, Pelosi reiterated the request that the costs of the program not count toward the cap while maintaining parity in defense and nondefense increases.

The appropriations bills Democrats passed in the House had included the VA mission costs, meaning that a deal to offset the costs from the caps could provide a face-saving path for Democrats to keep their overall nondefense level while technically lowering the cap by $9 billion.

Pelosi has made clear that she does not want to breach the debt ceiling but is willing to leverage it for pressure on a caps deal.

"We all agree on the need to address the debt limit, but we also must reach an agreement on spending priorities based upon the principle of parity as soon as possible," she wrote.

Democrats believe packaging the debt ceiling with a budget bill will provide more leverage in spending negotiations. GOP senators say there's little desire in their conference to vote on a standalone proposal to increase the nation's debt limit, something that's broadly unpopular with the base.

Mnuchin on Monday downplayed concerns over a potential government shutdown given the lack of a firm deal.

"I don't see a government shutdown looming," he said. "That's not an issue until the end of September, and I have no expectation that there will be a shutdown whatsoever."

Niv Ellis contributed.

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