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The Looming Deadline for Raising the Federal Debt Ceiling and the Stalemate between Democrats and Republicans

The U.S. is facing a looming deadline to raise the federal debt ceiling before the country runs out of cash to pay its bills. The responsibility of establishing the debt limit, presently valued at $31.4tn, lies with Congress.[0] Since 1960, the debt ceiling has been increased on 78 occasions, during the reign of Democratic and Republican presidents alike.[1] Occasionally, the debt ceiling was temporarily halted and subsequently restored at a higher threshold, effectively increasing it retroactively.[0]

After a months-long stalemate, President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy began meeting last week to discuss an agreement for raising the federal debt ceiling and on Tuesday appointed negotiating teams to spearhead the talks.[2] In the ongoing discussions, the White House took a small step by sending Steve Ricchetti, a Biden advisor, and Shalanda Young, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.[3] The GOP is maneuvering to reduce federal expenditure and reverse significant Biden policy objectives, whereas the administration is advocating for an unconditional debt ceiling legislation.

As talks enter crunch time, Republicans are demanding deep spending cuts and other policy changes in exchange for raising the debt limit, but Democrats refuse to tie spending negotiations to debt ceiling talks. Despite Republicans insisting on substantial funding reductions as a condition for raising the debt limit, several Democrats maintain that they are not engaging in any negotiations regarding the debt ceiling. On the other hand, they claim to be engaged in a parallel discussion regarding the budget, which may result in the implementation of spending limits, retrieval of unutilized Covid funds, simplification of energy permit procedures, and probable modification of the conditions for obtaining aid benefits.[4]

Democrats have been pushing Biden to invoke his constitutional authority under the 14th Amendment to raise the nation’s debt limit without an act of Congress.[5] Meanwhile, Republicans have demanded sharp federal spending cuts to be tied to a bill to raise the limit, while Biden and Democrats have sought to limit the cuts. In the past, Biden advocated for a standalone bill to increase the ceiling with no additional provisions.[6]

As time is rapidly dwindling, lawmakers must reach a debt ceiling agreement or face the unprecedented threat of default. Meanwhile, the two parties continue to exchange dialogue and negotiations.[7] The U.S. may exhaust its funds to cover expenses by June 1, as per Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen's cautionary statement, with the specific date still undetermined.[7] In order for the House and the Senate to pass it before the June 1 deadline, Speaker Kevin McCarthy has stated that a deal must be made by the end of the weekend.

Lawmakers are under pressure to act quickly as they face a rapidly approaching deadline to either raise or suspend the debt ceiling, in order to avoid the risk of default.[7] On Thursday, McCarthy expressed his belief that a principal agreement must be reached by the coming weekend to ensure the passing of a bill in both the House and Senate before June 1. Despite optimism from leaders on both sides, they still appear far apart on the details.[8]

The U.S. debt grows when the government is spending more money or when its revenue is lower.[0] Debt has been present in the history of the US to some extent.[0] The accumulation of debt began to escalate significantly during the 1980s, following the implementation of massive tax cuts under Ronald Reagan's administration.[0] Due to a decrease in tax revenue, the government was compelled to increase its borrowing to meet its expenses.

With neither side budging, a continued stalemate could bring the US economy closer to disaster.[0] The cost to finance the government's activities gets more expensive if rates continue moving higher, which can create a larger fiscal hole. The White House and Republicans are still far apart on the details, and as the clock ticks down to the deadline, the possibility of a default becomes increasingly likely.

0. “What is the US debt ceiling and what will happen if it is not raised?” The Guardian, 30 Apr. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2023/may/16/what-is-debt-ceiling-limit-explainer

1. “Nine questions you may have about the debt ceiling” NPR, 15 May. 2023, https://www.npr.org/2023/05/15/1175733139/debt-ceiling

2. “President Biden, House Speaker McCarthy: A debt ceiling deal is in the works” Detroit Free Press, 20 May. 2023, https://www.freep.com/story/money/business/2023/05/20/president-biden-house-speaker-a-debt-ceiling-deal-is-in-the-works/70226809007

3. “Critical Debt Ceiling Talks Back On After Sudden Pause, McCarthy Says” Forbes, 19 May. 2023, https://www.forbes.com/sites/saradorn/2023/05/19/critical-debt-ceiling-talks-back-on-after-sudden-pause-mccarthy-says

4. “Senators dismiss happy talk after Biden-McCarthy debt sitdown” POLITICO, 16 May. 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/05/16/senators-after-biden-mccarthy-debt-sitdown-00097289

5. “Debt ceiling: Why is Biden being asked to invoke the 14th Amendment? – POLITICO” POLITICO, 19 May. 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/05/19/14th-amendment-biden-debt-ceiling-00097932

6. “Two-thirds of Americans very concerned about potential debt limit breach” The Hill, 20 May. 2023, https://thehill.com/business/economy/4013421-two-thirds-of-americans-very-concerned-about-potential-debt-limit-breach

7. “McCarthy says debt ceiling negotiations paused until Biden returns” ABC News, 20 May. 2023, https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/debt-ceiling-talks-end-after-briefly-resuming/story?id=99459051

8. “If he were president, Hawley says, he’d be tempted to raise debt ceiling without Congress” Kansas City Star, 17 May. 2023, https://www.kansascity.com/news/politics-government/article275275056.html