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Abolish the Debt Ceiling So GOP Can’t Hold Economy Hostage, Says Senator Warren

Rep. Pramila Jayapal signaled that abolishing the debt ceiling is part of the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s agenda.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren questions executives of the nation's largest banks during a Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on September 22, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Sunday said congressional Democrats should use the upcoming lame-duck session to eliminate the U.S. debt ceiling for good, warning that leaving the borrowing limit intact gives Republicans an opening to hold the economy hostage.

“I’d get rid of the debt ceiling altogether,” Warren (D-Mass.) told NBC’s Chuck Todd, arguing that the arbitrary limit “serves no function except to create leverage for people who are willing to blow up the economy.”

“And that’s the problem we’ve got right now,” Warren continued. “Many of these new Republicans who are coming in are people who are coming in with exactly one goal: Get Donald Trump elected in 2024. And they see that if they can create chaos in the economy, then they think that may move Donald Trump one inch closer to election. So, we’ve got to take that away from them, take care during the lame duck—take care of raising the debt limit or getting rid of it altogether.”

The U.S. is expected to reach the debt ceiling — which dictates how much money the Treasury Department can borrow to meet the country’s obligations — at some point early next year, once again raising the prospect of a default that would be disastrous for the U.S. economy, wiping out millions of jobs and eliminating trillions of dollars in household wealth.

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said she supports congressional action to raise the debt ceiling during the lame-duck session. Yellen has previously backed calls to completely abolish the debt ceiling, a proposal that President Joe Biden opposes.

“I think it’s just compromising the credit of the United States,” Yellen said Sunday. “Casting doubt on the willingness of the United States to pay its debt is a devastating economic self-inflicted blow.”

In the run-up to last week’s midterm elections, top Republicans in the House — including the lawmaker in line for speaker, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — suggested they would be willing to use the debt ceiling as leverage to pursue cuts to Social Security, Medicare, climate investments, and potentially other spending.

While Republicans won far fewer House seats than expected, they’re still favored to take narrow control of the chamber, leaving Democrats with dwindling time to prevent GOP debt ceiling brinkmanship.

Asked Sunday whether the Senate will act on the debt ceiling during the lame-duck session, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said it is “something that we will look at over the next few weeks.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told ABC on Sunday that the House’s “best shot” at raising the limit “is to do it now.”

“There’s great risk to even discussing not doing it,” said Pelosi, pointing to the destructive 2011 standoff over the debt ceiling, which allowed Republicans to force spending cuts. “So this is dealing with fire when we’re talking about the stability of our credit rating.”

During an event at AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) signaled that abolishing the debt ceiling is part of the bloc’s policy agenda.

Last month, dozens of congressional Democrats implored their party’s leaders to “take legislative action that will permanently undo the threat posed by the debt limit” — a call that Social Security defenders echoed.

“Democrats, including President Joe Biden, focused heavily on Social Security during the campaign,” Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, said in a statement last week. “They made sure voters knew about Republican threats to the program, and promised that Democrats would protect Social Security.”

“Now,” Lawson added, “it’s time for Democrats to keep that promise by raising or eliminating the debt ceiling in the final months of the year, so that Republicans can’t use it as leverage to force cuts to Social Security and Medicare.”

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