McConnell insists he’s sitting out debt talks—to total disbelief

May 2, 2023

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) insists that he will not come up with a rescue plan this time as Republicans and a Democratic president battle over the debt limit, reports The Hill.

McConnell has a long history of negotiating with President Joe Biden on high-profile issues, such as extending the Bush tax cuts at the end of 2010, avoiding a national default in 2011, and avoiding the fiscal cliff at the end of 2012.

The Senate GOP leader also supported the bipartisan infrastructure package and big new investments in the domestic semiconductor industry—two big Biden agenda items.

But McConnell says Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-California) need to work out a deal on the debt limit among themselves, arguing that any proposal that originates from the Senate can’t pass the House.

“The president knows how to do this .… Until he and the Speaker of the House reach an agreement, we’ll be at a standoff,” McConnell told reporters. “We have divided government. The president and the Speaker need to come together and solve the problem.”

Republican aides say McConnell’s strategy has the advantage of also keeping Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), whom Republicans see as a tougher negotiator than Biden, out of the talks.

A Senate Republican aide says Schumer also has more “leverage” than House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries (New York), who is in the minority and was recently elected to the House Democrat’s top leadership job.

McConnell’s insistence that he won’t step in at the last moment to cut a deal with Democrats to extend the nation’s borrowing authority is being met with widespread skepticism, however, even from fellow Republican senators.

“McConnell is probably just sitting there waiting for it to all fail, so he can be asked to come in and be the savior,” said one Republican senator who requested anonymity to comment on what to expect from McConnell in the debt limit fight.  

Other GOP senators say they expect talks between Biden and McCarthy to stall and then for the ball to be in McConnell’s court.  

“I think [McConnell’s] position is, ‘Let’s see what the House can do that makes sense.’ But here’s the reality, the likelihood of the House being able to propose something seems to be questionable. Eventually, Schumer’s going to bring up a bill to increase the debt ceiling, a clean debt-ceiling increase, and we’re going to have to vote on it [in the Senate],” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) told The Hill earlier this year.  

A Senate Republican aide disputed that speculation. “There is no secret McConnell plan out there. That’s key. Democrats are suggesting that,” the aide said. “That requires Biden and McCarthy to have conversations.”

Research contact: @thehill