The budget agreement lawmakers reached in Washington could hobble the next president with another crisis over the debt ceiling, prompting some Democratic operatives this week to call for abolishing the nation’s borrowing limit entirely.
Republicans effectively took the debt limit hostage during President Barack Obama’s tenure, withholding their votes to raise it in exchange for spending cuts. After President Donald Trump took office, they largely abandoned fiscal austerity by signing off on hundreds of billions of dollars in red ink.
The budget deal currently moving through Congress would lift the debt ceiling beyond the 2020 elections ― until July 2021, meaning that a future Democratic president could face a crisis over the debt ceiling in the middle of their first year in office (though likely somewhat later depending on the U.S. Treasury). If Democrats fail to recapture the Senate next year, they’d be once again facing off against a GOP majority likely eager to address the deficit, which has ballooned to more than $1 trillion.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a 2020 presidential candidate, came out in support of either eliminating the debt ceiling or making increases automatic in a new plan this week about dealing with a future economic recession.
“The debt limit has never made any sense. Congress decides its funding and the United States of America should meet its lawfully incurred obligations,” Warren told reporters on Tuesday.
A spokesman for Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), another presidential contender, said the congressman “supports abolishing the debt ceiling.”
Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), meanwhile, “believes the debt ceiling should either be abolished or adjusted to inflation,” per his 2020 campaign spokesperson.
Sen. Michael Bennet’s (D-Colo.) campaign noted he introduced legislation in 2017 to repeal the debt ceiling.
No other 2020 campaigns responded to HuffPost’s queries about their candidates’ views on abolishing the debt ceiling prior to this article’s posting. Several candidates said they would consider it in brief interviews on Capitol Hill.
“I’ll take a look at that bill,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Tuesday when asked if he supported eliminating the debt limit.
“I would like to think about that,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) added.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said he had “never been asked that question.”
Calls to eliminate the debt ceiling have grown in recent months ― even from some on the right.
“The debt limit has not just outlived its usefulness,” Brendan Buck, a former top aide to GOP House speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan, wrote recently. “It has become a pointless danger. In recent years, debt limit increases have routinely had to be attached to unrelated bills, tying the full faith and credit of the United States to lawmakers’ ability to sort out other partisan squabbles. We’ve always avoided crisis, but a single failure could be catastrophic.”
Last week, as lawmakers worked to reach a deal with the administration, Trump said he could not “imagine” anybody even “thinking” of using the debt ceiling as leverage. But in 2012 and later in 2013, during the GOP’s high-stakes game of chicken with the Obama administration over the debt limit, he thought differently. Back then, he tweeted that Republicans “have the cards because of the debt ceiling—but it doesn’t seem that way!” adding a few days later: “The Republicans must use the debt ceiling as leverage to make a great deal!”
Not every Republican was happy about the budget deal reached this week, which also put higher spending guidelines on both military and entitlement programs.
“I’m highly disappointed that once again the general tendency of Congress is to spend more money. I’m definitely a no on this,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said Tuesday when asked about the budget agreement.
Even if the next Democratic president gets on board with some way to eliminate the regular threat of a debt ceiling breach, an outcome that could potentially trigger an economic crash, they’ll have to convince more of their colleagues in Congress to support it.
“No, I think that’s wishful thinking. I think it will take some more significant reform,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Tuesday when asked if he supported abolishing the debt ceiling.