Debt Ceiling: Joe Biden Dramatizes the Issues

The American president determined this Monday that he “can’t guarantee” that the United States would not shortly be in default on its debt payments, while Congress struggles to raise the debt ceiling. Engaged in a standoff, Republicans are trying to weaken the Democrats with a view to the midterm elections in November 2022.

The tone now is offensive and dramatic. Joe Biden determined this Monday that he “can’t guarantee” that the United States will avoid a payment default. “I can’t believe that will be the end result because the consequence is so dire … I don’t believe that. But can I guarantee it? If I could, I would, but I can’t,” he responded to a journalist Monday at the White House.

To avoid a payment default that could take place as soon as Oct. 18, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Congress must raise or suspend the authorized debt ceiling, today fixed at around $28 trillion, a customary procedure most often adopted by the two parties without major turmoil.* The United States “is a nation that pays its bills,” the president said.

The two parties have, for years, abandoned debate on public deficit control, but the Republicans today are making a tool out of the legislative obligation, aimed at pointing out the “unbridled spending” of Democrats. Pointing out that the debt ceiling must be raised in order to reflect past expenditures and not in anticipation of future expenditures, Biden, for his part, called the Republican positions “irresponsible” and “unconsionable.”

Ceiling Raised Nearly 80 Times in 60 Years

Each camp has drawn on its archives in order to shore up its position. The Democrats recall that a bipartisan agreement has allowed an increase of the debt ceiling nearly 80 times since the 1960s. Notably, they did it on three occasions during the term of Donald Trump, a president who deepened the American public debt “by nearly $8 trillion,” Biden recalled.

The Senate Republican minority leader and standard-bearer of the opposition, Mitch McConnell, recalled for his part that the Democrats — and Biden — had refused to vote to raise the debt ceiling on three occasions in the 2000s.

The two men have known one another for 40 years and have fought on many occasions. A skillful strategist, the Kentucky senator is trying, above all, to weaken his Democratic congressional counterparts with a view to the midterm elections in November 2022. McConnell thus hopes that the Republicans will be able to easily take back the narrow Democratic majorities in both the House and in the Senate.

Biden’s dramatization of the issues also puts McConnell back at the center of the game, while he is criticized by Trump for having distancing himself after the invasion of Congress on Jan. 6.

Threats of Obstruction

Democrats, who want to pass the debt ceiling increase in a bipartisan manner if possible, are resolved to pass it alone in Congress. But they now denounce Republican threats of obstruction in order to be able to do it in time.

While the White House is also struggling to have its investment proposals adopted by its own side, Biden tried, on Monday, to apply pressure by warning Americans, pointing to the risk of a loss of confidence of the financial markets. “As soon as this week, your savings and your pocketbook could be directly impacted by this Republican stunt,” he warned.

*Editor’s Note: On Oct. 7, Congress passed a measure to extend the debt ceiling until December.

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