Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson is rallying support for GOP members of the U.S. House, hoping to negotiate federal spending cuts before agreeing to raise the nation's debt ceiling. Meanwhile, Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin says the House "shouldn't play games" with the nation's debts.
During a press conference Wednesday, Johnson said the new GOP majority in the House is "in the driver's seat" on debt limit negotiations with Democrats in Congress and the White House. Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California has signaled interest in a federal spending cap in exchange for a temporary increase to the debt ceiling.
"We want to convey to our House colleagues that we respect what they've done," Johnson said. "They've got a big task ahead of them."
Johnson said the federal government was "tantalizingly close" to balancing its budget in 2022, but said that possibility faded after Congress approved "wasteful spending" in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I would vote for an increase in the debt ceiling if we attach to it certain fiscal controls," Johnson said. "And we as senators, who have taken that position in the past, we need to again provide that support for our colleagues in the House."
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The federal government reached the cap on how much money it can borrow on Jan. 19, according to U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. In a letter to House Speaker McCarthy, Yellen said the Treasury will take "extraordinary measures" to prevent the United States from defaulting on it's existing debt obligations. Those include suspending investments in a federal employee retirement and disability fund. But Yellen said those and other measures could be exhausted by the summer.
Baldwin told Wisconsin Public Radio on Wednesday that all eyes in Washington are on McCarthy to "act responsibly" and make sure the U.S. doesn't default on its debts.
"The United States of America pays its bills," Baldwin said. "The full faith and credit of the United States is on the line and House Republicans should not play games with this, especially given the huge consequences."
The last time the U.S. government hit its debt ceiling was in 2011. That spooked financial markets and led to the first-ever downgrading of the nation's credit rating.