A top House Republican said Tuesday that his caucus was ready to defy the White House’s request for a “clean” increase of the federal debt ceiling, upping the prospects of a dramatic and potentially damaging fight come this fall.
The Trump administration has asked Congress to approve a clean debt-ceiling hike before the federal borrowing limit is reached at the end of September. But Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), a member of the House Budget and Appropriations Committees, predicted Republicans would demand some package of spending cuts as a condition for doing so.
“A clean debt-ceiling hike is like having a credit card and saying, ‘I’ve reached my limit. I’m just going to change the limit higher without changing any of my spending habits.’ That’s a tough sell to Republicans. Democrats seem to be fine with that. But I think most of my colleagues aren’t,” Cole said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
Under the Obama administration, congressional Republicans often used the debt-ceiling battle as a mechanism to try to pursue deficit-reduction and rein in federal spending. Obama eventually refused to negotiate over the matter, citing the fact that a debt default would be economically catastrophic and that the debt ceiling needed to be raised precisely to pay the bills for money Congress itself had already appropriated.
Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget, was a key figure in opposing the Obama administration’s ask when he was a member of the House. But Mulvaney reiterated his desire for a clean debt-ceiling hike last week, joining other Trump officials, including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
Cole was unpersuaded by the administration’s united front.
“I certainly would listen to any argument the president made. But no, I much prefer to do something,” he said. “This idea we could go on spending interminably and just simply raise the debt ceiling every time—sooner or later, the credit markets are going to make that impossible to do.”
A fiscal conservative, Cole is nevertheless known as one of the top dealmakers among Republicans in the House. So his opposition to a clean hike foreshadows a potentially bitter intraparty battle when Congress returns to Washington in September. Already, the administration’s request faces stiff opposition in the House, where a group of approximately three-dozen hardline conservatives has vowed to oppose any debt-ceiling increase that isn’t paired with spending cuts.
“There is no reason that when Republicans control the House, the Senate, and the White House that the debt ceiling should be lifted without putting in place measures to get a hold of our out-of-control spending and address our national debt,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, told The Daily Beast last week.
In the Senate, things should go more smoothly for the administration. Many GOP lawmakers in that chamber have indicated willingness to go along with the president’s request for a clean hike in order to move on to tackling more pressing matters, such as a tax-code overhaul.
“We have to do it. We’ve got to pay our bills. And everybody knows it. We’ve been through this routine over and over, and it never really works,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) told The Daily Beast.