Mitch McConnell Is Setting Up Another Debt-Ceiling Fight

With just a month to go until the limit is reached, the Senate minority leader is looking for a showdown.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) arrives at a press conference, September 26, 2013 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
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Matt Berman
Jan. 26, 2014, 5:25 a.m.

It’s a month end­ing with a “y” or “r,” so that means it’s time for an­oth­er polit­ic­al fight over the debt ceil­ing.

On Fox News Sunday, Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell made it clear he’s go­ing to push for policy riders on an in­crease in the debt ceil­ing.

“I think for the pres­id­ent to ask for a clean debt ceil­ing, when we have a debt the size of our eco­nomy, is ir­re­spons­ible,” Mc­Con­nell said Sunday. “So we ought to dis­cuss adding something to his re­quest to raise the debt ceil­ing that does something about the debt or pro­duces at least something pos­it­ive for our coun­try.” And while Mc­Con­nell again in­sisted that the U.S. would not de­fault on its debt, he ad­ded “We ought to at­tach something sig­ni­fic­ant for the coun­try to his re­quest to in­crease the debt ceil­ing.”

The U.S. debt lim­it must be raised by the end of Feb­ru­ary, says Treas­ury Sec­ret­ary Jac­ob Lew, if the U.S. is not to de­fault on its debt. Lew asked Con­gress in a let­ter Wed­nes­day to raise the lim­it by Feb­ru­ary 7.

Right now, es­pe­cially after what happened last fall, it’s hard to see the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion com­prom­ising on a “clean” debt-lim­it ex­ten­sion, which would have no oth­er policies or spend­ing cuts at­tached. But Mc­Con­nell isn’t the only one look­ing for a fight. “The speak­er has said that we should not de­fault on our debt, or even get close to it, but a ‘clean’ debt lim­it in­crease simply won’t pass in the House,” John Boehner’s spokes­man Mi­chael Steel said this week.

Back in Oc­to­ber, GOP lead­ers agreed to pass a clean ex­ten­sion of the debt ceil­ing at the last minute as part of the deal to end the gov­ern­ment shut­down, but did so without the sup­port of most House Re­pub­lic­ans. Now, with elec­tions com­ing up, a vote to ex­tend the lim­it is even harder for some mem­bers to stom­ach. 

With the State of the Uni­on and the an­nu­al Re­pub­lic­an re­treat com­ing up this week, there’s even less time than there may seem for Con­gress to deal with the ceil­ing. It’s go­ing to be a busy couple of weeks, and we may have yet an­oth­er dead­line debt-lim­it stan­doff right around the corner.