President Biden excoriated Republicans on Monday for blocking his party’s efforts to raise the debt ceiling weeks before a projected government default, calling their tactics “reckless” and “disgraceful” and warning they risked causing “a self-inflicted wound that takes our economy over a cliff.”
Mr. Biden, trying to convey the risks to everyday Americans, warned that they could see the effects as early as this week if Senate Democrats were not able to vote to raise the debt limit. That cap dictates the amount of money the government can borrow to
fulfill its financial obligations, including paying Social Security checks, salaries for military personnel and other bills.
“As soon as this week, your savings and your pocketbook could be directly impacted by this Republican stunt,” Mr. Biden said, cautioning that a failed vote could rattle financial markets, sending stock prices lower and interest rates higher. “A meteor is headed for our economy.”
Despite Mr. Biden’s attempts to blame Republicans for the impasse, Democrats are increasingly confronting the possibility that they may need to raise the debt limit through the one legislative path that Republicans have left open: a process known as budget reconciliation that bypasses a Senate filibuster. Mr. Biden and Democratic leaders have chafed at that approach, saying Republicans bear a share of responsibility for Washington’s ongoing budget deficits and must at least allow an up-or-down vote, as has been the case under previous presidents.
Investors in U.S. government debt are already getting spooked: Yields for certain Treasury bonds that could be affected by a default spiked on Monday, as investors demanded higher interest payments to offset the risk.
The Treasury Department has warned the United States will run out of money to pay all its bills by Oct. 18 if the borrowing cap is not raised, a situation that could force the government into default and wreak havoc on an American economy already shaken by the coronavirus.
The dire stakes of the debt limit impasse add a level of seriousness to what has become a perennial exercise of political brinkmanship in Washington. Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats say Republicans are putting the entire economy at risk by blocking a Senate vote that would raise the debt limit with just Democrat support. Republicans, who have allowed such votes to occur in the past, have twice blocked Democrats from taking up a bill and are trying to force the party to use reconciliation, which is a more complicated process that could take a week or more to come together.
On Monday, the president said that he could not guarantee the limit would be raised.
“That’s up to Mitch McConnell,” Mr. Biden said, referencing the senator of Kentucky and minority leader. “I don’t believe it. But can I guarantee it? If I could, I would, but I can’t.”
The president’s remarks escalated a showdown with Mr. McConnell, who on Monday sent a letter to Mr. Biden stating that he would not relent in using the filibuster to prevent a Senate vote and that the onus was on Democrats to find a solution.
“I respectfully submit that it is time for you to engage directly with congressional Democrats on this matter,” Mr. McConnell wrote in a letter to Mr. Biden. “Your lieutenants in Congress must understand that you do not want your unified Democratic government to sleepwalk toward an avoidable catastrophe when they have had nearly three months’ notice to do their job.”
Democratic leaders in the Senate, along with Mr. Biden, have bristled at Mr. McConnell’s stance, saying Republicans bear responsibility for having approved spending that now requires more government borrowing, and have no right to stand in the way of a Senate vote.
“Why? Why are we doing this?” Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said on Monday. “Because McConnell wants to make a point.”
Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, visibly frustrated, said the brinkmanship “speaks to how broken this country is.”
“I mean it’s crazy — we’re offering a way to do it, where he doesn’t have to have any members vote for it, and he said that’s not good enough,” Mr. Tester said. “It’s got to be on this piece of legislation or we’re out.”
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, told Democrats that a bill that would raise the debt limit would need to reach Mr. Biden’s desk within days, not weeks, and threatened to hold members in Washington over the weekend and cancel an upcoming recess to do it.