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White House Warns GOP Not to Tie Debt Ceiling to Social Security Cuts

“In exchange for not crashing the United States economy, you get nothing,” one Democrat said. “You don’t get a cookie.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily press briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on December 19, 2022.

Democrats are warning Republicans that they will not negotiate over raising the debt ceiling to avoid economic catastrophe after Republicans spent the last months warning that they may pursue cuts to key social programs by holding debt limit legislation hostage.

On Friday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that Congress must pass legislation raising the debt ceiling “without conditions.” It’s not that the White House will be hard on Republicans at the negotiating table, she said — rather, there will not be any negotiations to begin with. “We will not be doing any negotiation over the debt ceiling,” Jean-Pierre said.

“This is not political gamesmanship,” she added. “This should be done without conditions. And that’s how we see this process moving forward.”

Jean-Pierre’s comments came in response to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s announcement that the U.S. will reach its spending limit on Thursday, January 19, and that the agency will have to begin taking “extraordinary measures” to delay a debt default, which would be economically ruinous. Those measures will give Congress until June to reach a deal, she said, which is less time than economists had predicted Congress would have.

Knowing that a debt default would be catastrophic and could trigger a recession, Republicans began laying out their plans to force through their demands before they even won control of a chamber of Congress.

Last fall, then-House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) said that debt limit legislation was a time for lawmakers to “eliminate some waste.” He was likely referring to the GOP’s plan to cut Social Security and Medicare, two of the U.S.’s most effective anti-poverty programs, which Republicans have been attacking for months.

Cutting these programs, by the GOP’s own admission, is in part a measure to ensure that workers must work further into old age. Further, social programs often aren’t considered “waste” by experts, as many of these programs actually end up saving the government money on expenses like health care costs.

Democrats have condemned Republicans for threatening cuts to these programs, saying that it is cynical for them to hold the economy hostage in order to demand that the government worsen conditions for the public. They have reiterated the White House’s stance that they will not negotiate over the debt ceiling.

“In exchange for not crashing the United States economy, you get nothing,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told The Daily Beast. “You don’t get a cookie. You don’t get to be treated like you’re the second coming of LBJ. You’re just a person doing the bare minimum of not intentionally screwing over your constituents.”

He said that Democrats must reject the very idea of negotiating, which most Democrats agree with, according to The Daily Beast. “We have to tell them there is no table,” he continued. “The one thing that is more dangerous than staring these guys down is not staring these guys down. Because if this becomes a tactic that works, it will never, ever end.”

Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) blasted Republicans for wanting to cut key social policies in a statement on Friday.

“Once again Republicans are demanding cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, and if they don’t get what they want, they’re willing to tank the American economy, destroy a strong job market and jack up interest rates and inflation,” Wyden said, pointing out that Republicans had no problem when the federal deficit skyrocketed due to their 2017 tax cuts. “Either way, they’re rooting for higher costs and a lower standard of living for millions of American seniors and families.”