With the federal government's power to borrow money to pay its bills set to expire Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the Senate will definitely raise the debt limit. But he couldn't say exactly when.
"We'll be talking to the secretary of the Treasury about timing, but obviously we will raise the debt ceiling," the Kentucky Republican told reporters.
The debt limit, also called the debt ceiling, is the legal amount that the U.S. Treasury can borrow to pay the government's bills, including Social Security and Medicare benefits, military salaries, tax refunds, interest on the national debt, and other obligations. The limit is set by Congress and must be raised by both the House and Senate. Congress needs to reset the limit to about $20 trillion to reflect the nation's current debt.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats have never opposed raising the limit, which allows the government to pay its existing debts, not create new ones.
"Democrats have always been for saying that we cannot default (on our debts)," Schumer said. "Our OMB secretary (former Republican congressman Mick Mulvaney) was the leader in trying to urge default (in the past). So we're going to have to have some of our Republican colleagues step up to the plate on this issue ... Let's see if there are enough Republicans who will vote to raise the debt ceiling now that they're in charge."
In the House, some conservative Republicans want to tie any increase in the debt limit to legislation to reduce the nation's $441 billion deficit. But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said that Democrats will only support a "clean" debt limit increase with nothing else attached to it.
If Congress doesn't lift the limit by Thursday, the Treasury Department will be forced to use "extraordinary measures" to keep raising cash to pay the government's bills. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told congressional leaders last week that he will begin Wednesday to suspend the sale of state and local government bonds, which count against the national debt.
Mnuchin's extraordinary measures "would probably be exhausted sometime this fall," according to the Congressional Budget Office. If Congress takes no action by then, the government would default on its debts for the first time.