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End of Democrats’ budget phase may require capping the debt limit

The best Democrats will soon have to deal with a budget problem: tackling government funding separately from the debt limit, eliminating one headache while almost certainly exacerbating another.

Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Tuesday she “would definitely vote for” a patch of government funding coupled with disaster relief.

Several other Republican senators this week said they would consider joining the Democrats in this vote: Senators Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Richard Shelby of Alabama, John Cornyn of Texas, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Thom Tillis of Carolina. North and Roger Wicker of Mississippi all said they would support – or not yet rule out – this option.

Senator John Neely Kennedy is an unequivocal yes to disaster relief. And the Louisiana senator said he had previously warned the White House that tying the debt-limiting action to the spending program would derail the whole thing.

“I’m going to vote for it even though the debt ceiling is there. But I’m telling you it’s not going to pass, and everyone knows it, including President Biden, ”Kennedy said in an interview Tuesday. He was one of four Republican senators who did not add their names to a letter last month that promised to oppose a future increase in the borrowing limit, even if it was tied to government funding.

“The president looked me in the eye and said, ‘We support you.’ And if he believes it’s to protect us, he’s the only person in the Milky Way to believe it, ”Kennedy added. “They know very well that this [continuing resolution], with an increase in the debt ceiling, will not pass. So that tells me that they are not in good faith to help my people. “

Democratic leaders stress that no decision has been made on attaching the debt limit to government funding as they assess their options to deal with the country’s ability to borrow money cap .

Some Democrats privately believe the party will eventually pass a continuing bipartisan resolution that funds disaster aid and other presidential priorities, leaving the debt limit for another day. But first, they want to force the GOP to vote against a package that combines government funding with a measure to avoid default, seeing the potential for a message victory.

“If we don’t get the support of the Republicans… they’re going to jeopardize the credit of the United States,” Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) Said of the GOP. “We have limited options. I’m all for dealing with it in any way I can to do it. “

Democrats have so far criticized Republicans for playing political chicken with the debt limit, which could cause economic chaos if breached. GOP leaders say they won’t cooperate on the issue while Democrats pursue billions of dollars in social spending without Republican votes, however.

Wicker, whose state of Mississippi was also hit hard by Hurricane Ida, said a Democratic move to separate the debt limit from government funding and disaster aid “would certainly remove a stone. stumbling block “.

“It would absolutely depend on the terms of the continuing resolution, but it is conceivable” that Republicans would back the stopgap with the money Biden requested for storm damage, he said.

When asked if he would support a stand-alone palliative spending bill with disaster assistance, Tillis replied, “Yeah. Again, if that’s separate from the debt ceiling, we certainly anticipated the needs in the Southeast as a result of the storm damage. “

The two sides have worked together in recent years to suspend the debt ceiling, most recently in August 2019, when the Trump administration and Congress agreed to suspend the ceiling for two years as part of a larger budget deal. large.

“No one – no one – is allowed to hold our economy hostage,” said Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). “We have consistently helped President Trump make sure this was not the case, and that principle still stands.”

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned of “irreparable damage to the US economy” as early as next month, especially if Congress waits until the last minute to deal with the debt ceiling. Other experts have estimated lawmakers may have until mid-November to act.

That small window of extra time could fuel the case for government funding now, while tackling a higher-stakes debt cliff later – although a two-party solution is far from guaranteed.

“I don’t think we’re going to run out of money on October 1,” said Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate spending panel. “It’s going to be a long fall, probably, and a cold, cold winter.”

Heather Caygle contributed to this report.