Thom Tillis: Biden, Schumer must get to work to break debt limit stalemate

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 7, 2023

By Sen. Thom Tillis  

My House Republican colleagues demonstrated tremendous leadership by passing a debt limit increase that included reforms to restore fiscal soundness and fulfill the promises they made to reverse the reckless ideological spending of the Biden administration. They defied the political prognosticators who questioned whether they could even pass the bill, proving they have a true governing majority, even if whipping all those votes doesn’t always look easy.

Simply put, House Republicans did their job and took default off the table. Unfortunately, President Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) haven’t demonstrated the same initiative in passing a bipartisan debt limit increase or getting our nation’s fiscal house in order. Biden and Schumer appear unwilling to compromise and for months even resisted the idea of simply sitting down for a discussion. They are both practicing raw partisan politics and playing a dangerous game with America’s future.

Their hypocrisy in style and substance is astounding, even in an age when situational principles are shamelessly practiced.

While President Biden has styled himself as a master bipartisan negotiator who delivers results, he says he will refuse to negotiate on a deal to achieve one of the most important things imaginable — avoiding default, protecting the nation’s future full faith and credit, and getting out-of-control spending under control. It’s quite a reversal from his role during the successful 2011 debt limit compromise under then-President Barack Obama, who tasked Biden with initiating negotiations with House Republican leaders, eventually resulting in a bipartisan deal that included sizable spending cuts. Flash forward to today, and Biden demands that no spending cuts be considered. His administration characterizes any attempts to control spending paired with a debt limit increase as “hostage-taking.”

It’s richly hypocritical for Biden to take issue with Republicans who want spending cuts to rein in his spending regime. Then-Sen. Biden in 2006 boasted that he was voting against the debt limit increase under then-President George W. Bush as a protest of “the policies that brought us to this point.”

The hypocrisy extends to Schumer, who as Senate minority leader under then-President Donald Trump in 2017 explained how it was perfectly acceptable to use the debt ceiling as “leverage” for one party to use to negotiate with the other. However, Schumer’s position apparently changed as soon as Democrats took control of the White House and Senate.

In today’s charged political climate, it’s understandable why Biden and Schumer don’t want to be seen as striking a compromise with McCarthy, especially after digging into their untenable position from the start of refusing to even meet with the Speaker.

But there is a time for politics and a time for governing. Americans didn’t elect President Biden to serve as a leader for only the left-wing part of his Democratic base. Instead, he was elected as leader of the entire nation, the kind of bipartisan, unifying leader he promised to be in his inaugural address. It’s time for him to start living up to his promises.

Schumer also needs to step up and get involved. It would be insulting to the intelligence of any American to claim the Senate is doing any meaningful work right now. Schumer has recently made two- and half-day working weeks in the Senate the norm, where the Senate’s only business these days is confirming low-level nominees or voting on partisan gimmick messaging bills that go nowhere.

It’s time for Schumer to step up and help hammer out a deal.

To help move the process along, Senate Republicans should consider denying Schumer cloture on his not-so-urgent business until he finally gets to the negotiating table with McCarthy and President Biden and works in good faith to protect our nation’s credit and get spending under control. Schumer should be dedicating every waking moment to bringing us closer to a bipartisan compromise. Denying cloture could take away distractions and keep the focus on the most pressing issue facing the nation.

The future of the country would not be in peril if a low-level nominee for an obscure executive position no one has ever heard of will have to wait a few extra weeks to get confirmed. But the economic future of our country will be in peril if no headway is made to obtain a debt limit deal.

Only House Republicans have passed legislation to avoid that catastrophic scenario, and it’s not a take-it-or-leave-it proposition.

Both parties need to be reasonable with the path forward. Republicans passed the Limit, Save, Grow Act. If Biden and Schumer don’t like it, they need to negotiate. And if they do, consensus can emerge.

Republicans and Democrats should both agree that $31 trillion in debt is unsustainable and we need to make spending cuts, just as elected leaders did in 2011. Both parties can find agreement on how and where to achieve those cuts, including clawing back unspent COVID-19 funding, cutting funding streams that ultimately benefit communist China, ending special interest tax breaks, and adding modest work requirements that will help lift Americans out of poverty.

The only good outcome for all Americans would be avoiding default and getting our unsustainable rate of spending under control. Whether we get that outcome is a question that only the president and Senate majority leader can answer.

Thom Tillis, a Republican, is the senior senator from North Carolina.