President Donald Trump called out GOP congressional leaders for bucking his guidance on the raising the debt ceiling Thursday, blaming them for creating a “mess” over what should have been “easy” legislative maintenance.
On Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted that he had requested Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan tie the debt ceiling legislation to the Veterans Affairs bill, which the president signed into law on Wednesday. They didn’t — and now Trump is mad.
Congress has an end-of-September deadline to raise the debt ceiling, or the United States will fail to make all the payments it is legally required to make, and put the federal bond market into a tailspin.
I requested that Mitch M & Paul R tie the Debt Ceiling legislation into the popular V.A. Bill (which just passed) for easy approval. They...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 24, 2017
...didn't do it so now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up (as usual) on Debt Ceiling approval. Could have been so easy-now a mess!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 24, 2017
The Veterans Affairs bill, which is aimed at expediting the appeals process for veterans who were denied disability benefits, passed the House and Senate with bipartisan support over the summer. Any attempt to raise the debt ceiling will also need Democrats on board to pass the 60-vote threshold in the Senate.
In that regard, Trump is right that Democrats have leverage here, but it’s not exactly clear that they are “holding” up the process. Democratic leaders, waiting for a Republican proposal, have been relatively quiet on how they plan to use this leverage — if at all. Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) has already said she supports an increase to the debt ceiling. Although, as Vox’s Matt Yglesias explained, there is a contingent of Democrats who aren’t keen on “bailing out Republicans on providing additional borrowing authority,” especially if Republicans are pursuing tax cuts that would blow up the deficit.
And Trump’s administration hasn’t helped mitigate the party politics. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has now pushed for a “clean” raise to the debt ceiling, but Trump’s administration spent months sowing confusion in the process and empowered congressional conservatives to make the debt ceiling more polarizing, as Yglesias explained:
The administration spent months offering no clarity on whether it even wanted a simple increase in the debt ceiling. That emboldened the right flank of congressional Republicans, who don’t want to raise the ceiling without also cutting federal spending in the process.
Freedom Caucus members have no real leverage to force legislative changes, but if they won’t vote for what’s known as a “clean” debt ceiling increase — one that is not attached to spending cuts or any other bills — that puts some leverage in the hands of congressional Democrats, whose votes GOP leaders will be counting on to get an increase done.
McConnell and Ryan have repeatedly ensured that the debt ceiling will be raised without issue. "There is zero chance — no chance — we won't raise the debt ceiling,” McConnell said in August. But it’s clear they are not making the president happy in the process.
Congress will have less than a month to negotiate a debt ceiling raise when they get back from recess in September — in addition to striking a deal on must-pass spending bills.