President Joe Biden on Monday urged Senate Republicans to stop blocking legislation to increase the debt ceiling as the US hurtles towards an October 18 deadline that could ultimately see it default on its loan obligations, an almost-unheard of scenario that would likely trigger a global economic crisis.
In an uncharacteristically partisan speech from the White House, Mr Biden derided Republicans’ use of a procedural mechanism called the filibuster to block a vote on increasing the debt ceiling in the Senate as “reckless” and “dangerous.”
“Not only are republicans refusing to do their job, they’re threatening to use their power to prevent us from doing our job: saving the economy from a catastrophic event,” said Mr Biden.
“Quite frankly it’s hypocritical, dangerous and disgraceful.”
“Their obstruction and their responsibility knows absolutely no bounds, especially as we’re clawing our way out of this pandemic.”
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed legislation last month to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a US loan default.
But Senate Republicans’ use of the filibuster requires a 60-vote threshold for the legislation to pass the Senate – and Democrats only have 51 votes, including that of Vice President Kamala Harris.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted that Democrats must raise the debt ceiling, but without any Republican votes, in a letter to Mr Biden on Monday.
“Republicans’ position is simple,” wrote Mr McConnell. “We have no list of demands. For two and a half months, we have simply warned that since your party wishes to govern alone, it must handle the debt limit alone as well.”
Mr McConnell has said that Democrats should use a complicated, lengthy legislative procedure called reconciliation to pass the debt ceiling increase with only 51 votes – the same mechanism that Democrats are using to advance Mr Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending package on social safety net programmes and green energy initiatives.
But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has ruled out that option, which would require approval from the Senate parliamentarian and eat up valuable time on the Senate floor that Democrats want to advance other priorities.
Mr McConnell also noted that Mr Biden opposed raising the debt ceiling when he was a senator while former president George W. Bush was in office.
However, Democrats did not use the filibuster under Mr Bush, allowing Republicans to raise the debt ceiling in a party-line vote alone.
“I plan on talking to Mitch about it,” Mr Biden told reporters after his speech. “I hope we can have some intelligent and honest conversation about what he’s proposing.”
“The easiest way to do this is if Republicans will not use the filibuster and will let us vote on what is already in the Senate right now, passed by the House to raise the debt limit.”
Despite growing calls from the left-flank of the Democratic party to abolish or reform the filibuster, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week that Mr Biden still does not support reforming the filibuster to pass the debt ceiling increase.