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Congress Must Act to Extend the Debt Ceiling

By Allison Markman

New York City, New York

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who spoke on the debt limit. (Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images)

The United States reached its borrowing cap on Thursday, January 19. While it will not default on the debt immediately, Congress must become serious about raising the debt ceiling, a task that has become increasingly difficult since the midterms.

After a contentious Speaker battle in the house last week, there exists growing concern over whether House Republicans will be able to unite and raise the ceiling due to new House rules that make it difficult to spend money. One of these changes includes the elimination of the Genhart Rule, which allowed Congress to circumvent a vote on controversial issues and automatically extend the government's borrowing power.

With these changes, Congressional Republicans are insisting that spending cuts be made, a demand that the White House has promised to oppose. In a press briefing on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated that the debt ceiling was not a point of negotiation, claiming that the ceiling was raised three times in a bipartisan manner under the former administration.

“It is essential for Congress to recognize that dealing with the debt ceiling is their constitutional responsibility,” she said. “This is an easy one. This is something that should be happening without conditions.”

It is important to note, however, that raising the debt ceiling does not increase spending. Rather, it solely ensures that the U.S. can pay the debt it has already amassed. Since Tea Party Republicans capitalized on the debt ceiling debate to push through unpopular spending cuts in 2012, the Democratic policy on debt ceiling debates is to pass the debt ceiling, and then enter into dialogues about spending cuts, as the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling are to severe to allowing it to be used as a political tool.

On the other hand, moderate Republicans in swing districts reject the White House’s hard-lined stance and believe that bipartisan compromise is the best solution. “I don’t think that a clean debt ceiling is in order, and I certainly don’t think that a default is in order,” Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) told CNN.

Another possible option included Democrats working with a few moderate Republicans to sign a Discharge Petition, a document that would force a debt increase out of committee and on the floor for a vote. This solution would allow Democrats to usurp McCarthy who is under pressure from the conservative wing of the party to do nothing after they aided him in getting the Speakership. However, this option remains unlikely as few moderate Republicans have agreed to sign such a document.

There are a few steps that would allow the White House to halt a default, yet all options are unprecedented. One possibility proposed is having Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen mint a trillion-dollar coin. Yellen has made clear that she has zero intentions to mint such a coin.

Many in Washington, however, view both parties' stance as solely posturing and believe that the debt ceiling issue will be resolved prior to economic consequences which may include the suspension of social security payments, military salaries, and payments on the national debt.

As it stands, the 31.4 trillion dollar national debt has become a political tool to instill fear and restrict borrowing, but a default has never occurred and remains unlikely.

Thankfully, Congress will have until June to address the debt, as the treasury department will begin to take “extraordinary measures” to ensure the government does not run out of money and cause an economic crisis.

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