WASHINGTON - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday said the debate over raising the country's debt ceiling could stretch into September and he sought bipartisan support for the legislation to prevent a government default.
“We are looking for a way forward” to pass a debt limit increase “sometime in the next month or so,” McConnell said after meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer.
He also told reporters that comprehensive tax legislation will move forward in September, but that he does not expect many Senate Democrats to support the Republican legislation.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, whose panel oversees government borrowing, said in a brief hallway interview that he does not expect bipartisan cooperation on the debt legislation.
“We're not going to get any Democrat help, I'll tell you that,” Hatch said.
The government bumped up against its statutory limit on borrowing at just under $20 trillion in March.
Since then, Mnuchin has had to take “extraordinary” measures to stave off a default until Congress agrees to raise the Treasury's borrowing capability.
“To ensure that we have robust economic growth and promote fiscal discipline, the Trump administration believes it's important to raise the debt ceiling as soon as possible,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.
While the Trump administration had been hoping Congress would pass a debt limit bill before embarking on a long summer recess, the House of Representatives already has begun its break and McConnell did not explicitly include the debt limit in a list of legislation to get done before the Senate's recess begins in coming days.
House conservative Republicans have been pushing for a variety of add-ons to a debt limit bill, such as deep spending cuts or the sale of government assets.
That approach could draw opposition from Democrats and some Republicans as the government gets closer to a possible default.
“We don't know where the White House is because they have different factions saying different things,” Schumer told reporters when asked if the White House had articulated clear goals.
Conservative Republicans in the past have balked at debt limit increases as a wedge for advancing deficit-reduction legislation.
When Congress returns from its summer break in early September, it also will have to pass bills to fund day-to-day government activities in the fiscal year that starts on Oct. 1 and there are some fears that the debt limit could get caught up in those negotiations.