Senate GOP to McCarthy: Debt fight is all yours

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A handful of Republican senators helped twice raise the nation’s borrowing ceiling in 2021. They’re less willing to step into the breach this time.

Senate Republicans are happy to leave the hard work on averting a cataclysmic debt default this year to the House’s new speaker.

After Kevin McCarthy blasted last month’s Senate GOP leadership-backed $1.7 trillion spending plan, upper-chamber Republicans are sitting out the early days of what’s shaping up as a standoff between their House counterparts and President Joe Biden. A handful of Senate Republicans helped twice raise the debt ceiling in 2021, and four of those members said on Monday they have no intention of stepping into the breach this time.

In other words, the Senate’s bipartisan gangs aren’t riding to the rescue on the debt ceiling — yet.

“What matters is really what the House can create,” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), a frequent cross-aisle negotiator. “They’re in a position, they have the gavels. We have to see what sort of strategy they think works to a successful outcome.”

After two years of bipartisan progress on issues Washington once only dreamed of tackling, from gun safety to infrastructure, the current dynamic means the Senate Republican minority is effectively handing the keys to McCarthy to cut a deal with Biden. Senate Democrats had hoped to clear a clean debt ceiling bill early this year to demonstrate to the House they could get a filibuster-proof majority well ahead of the impending spring deadline, but their Republican colleagues say that’s not happening right now.

That’s in part because Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his lieutenants spent much of their political capital in December, aggressively moving to pass a government funding bill that had McCarthy complaining loudly and often. Many GOP senators feared that kicking the spending measure to this year could risk a shutdown.

And now some Republicans doubt McConnell could muster the nine votes needed to break a filibuster on a debt limit increase, even if he wanted to. On Monday, all McConnell would say was: “We won’t default.”

“I don’t think he could get it, personally, right now. I think he squeezed all that he could to get the omnibus done, as well as it went,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), referring to the spending bills passed late last year.

By Burgess Everett

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