CAPITOL HILL— The speaker of the Republican-led House of Representatives said the United States will not default on its $17-trillion national debt, but he is declining comment on legislation needed to raise the U.S. borrowing limit. Uncertainty is mounting weeks before the U.S. Treasury is expected to exhaust its ability to meet federal obligations.
At a news conference, House Speaker John Boehner sought to reassure Americans and global investors that the United States will remain financially solvent. “Listen, we do not want to default on our debt, and we are not going to default on our debt,” he said.
But to avert default, both houses of Congress will have to approve an increase in the federal borrowing limit by the end of the month.
“We have got time to do this. We are going to continue to work at it,” said Boehner.
The speaker is attempting to manage a widely reported rift among Republican legislators as to whether to demand concessions from Democrats on Republican agenda items -- from amending the new health care law, and approving a controversial pipeline for Canadian oil, to federal spending cuts. News reports say Republicans have abandoned most of these ideas, but that some retain a desire to use the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip with Democrats in some still-undefined fashion.
President Barack Obama repeatedly has stated he will not negotiate on the debt ceiling, and that Congress must fulfill its duty to allow the federal government to pay its bills. Democrats in Congress are backing the president, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
“This is not a matter of negotiation. This is the full faith and credit of the United States of America,” she said.
Pelosi compared Republicans to diners demanding “a cookie in their lunch. And that is just not right.”
During President Obama’s first term, Republicans succeeded in extracting budgetary concessions from Democrats in return for continued federal spending authority and debt ceiling increases. Last year, however, the president and congressional Democrats announced an end to such negotiations, triggering a partisan stand-off and a 16-day partial government shutdown that ended with Republicans dropping nearly all demands.
Americans mostly blamed Republicans for the shutdown, and Boehner is not eager for another stand-off on the debt ceiling today. At Thursday’s news conference, though, he gave no hints on a path forward.
“No decisions have been made. We are continuing to talk to our [Republican] members,” he said.
One of those members, Congressman Raul Labrador, recently made headlines when he urged fellow Republicans to acknowledge that the debt ceiling would yield no concessions from Democrats.