Trump blames fellow Republican leaders for debt ceiling 'mess'

Politics

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump picked a new fight on Thursday with fellow Republicans whose support he needs to advance his policy agenda, saying congressional leaders could have avoided a “mess” over raising the U.S. debt ceiling if they had heeded his advice.

In the latest in what have become regular criticisms of party leaders, Trump sought to assign blame if Congress fails to reach agreement on raising the cap on the amount the federal government may borrow, with a deadline to do so just weeks away.

Trump said he had advised Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan to link passage of legislation raising the debt ceiling to a measure on veterans affairs that he signed on Aug. 12.

“They … didn’t do it so now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up (as usual) on Debt Ceiling approval. Could have been so easy-now a mess!” he said in Twitter posts.

The Treasury Department, already using “extraordinary measures” to remain current on its obligations, has said the debt ceiling must be raised by Sept. 29. If it is not, the government would not be able to borrow more money or pay its bills, including payments on its debts, which could hurt the U.S. credit rating.

A spokesman for McConnell noted the Senate majority leader had said earlier this week, in an appearance with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, that the debt ceiling would be raised.

McConnell was “unequivocal” about it, said spokesman Don Stewart. He said McConnell also mentioned it again on Wednesday in a statement the Senate leader issued about his “shared goals” with Trump.

Ryan, speaking at a town hall meeting on tax reform at a Boeing plant in Washington state, also said Congress would pass legislation to raise the ceiling in time to ensure debt payment. He said many options were available for increasing the limit.

In a later interview with CNBC, Ryan said he had considered attaching debt ceiling legislation to the measure on funding veterans’ programs, but a deadline on that measure came up and “we weren’t able to do that then.”

The funding measure passed the House in late July and the Senate on Aug. 1 without the additional language attached.

DEADLINES LOOM

The debt ceiling raise is one of the must-pass measures Congress will take up when it returns on Sept. 5 from recess.

Congress also will have about 12 working days from when it returns to approve spending measures to keep the government open. While the budget and debt cap are separate, they are likely to become entangled, with Republican opponents of a debt ceiling increase expected to demand federal spending cuts.

U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he steps out from Air Force One in Reno, Nevada, U.S., August 23, 2017.Joshua Roberts

Trump threatened on Tuesday to shut down the government if Congress failed to secure funding for his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. His threat added a new complication to Republicans’ months-long struggle to reach a budget deal, rattled markets and drew rebukes from some Republicans.

Democrats, solidly opposed to funding the wall, have slammed Trump over his comments.

On the debt ceiling, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday that with Republicans controlling the White House, the House and Senate, “the American people expect and deserve a plan from Republicans to avert a catastrophic default and ensure the full faith and credit of the United States.”

Both the spending and debt ceiling bills could pass the Republican-led House by a simple majority vote, but will need 60 votes to pass the Senate, where Republicans hold 52 of 100 seats, meaning they will need some Democratic support.

A respected think tank said in a report on Thursday the government might not have enough money to pay all its bills on Oct. 2 if Washington does not raise the debt cap. The Treasury might not have enough money on that day to make a roughly $80 billion payment that will be due to a military retirement fund, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Moody’s Investors Service said it would consider stripping the United States of its top-notch rating in the case of a default, but not over late or skipped payments on non-debt obligations in the event the government ran short of funds. The warning about a possible U.S. downgrade seemed less dire and narrower in scope than one issued on Wednesday by its rival Fitch Ratings.

SHARED PRIORITIES

Trump has often expressed frustration that Congress has not passed significant legislation since he took office in January. His renewed jab at Republican leaders came a day after the White House and McConnell issued separate statements saying they were continuing to work together on shared priorities, seeking to counter news reports that their relationship was disintegrating.

Trump also reiterated his criticism of McConnell on Thursday over the Senate’s failure in July to pass a bill to replace Democratic former President Barack Obama’s healthcare law.

“The only problem I have with Mitch McConnell is that, after hearing Repeal & Replace for 7 years, he failed! That should NEVER have happened!” Trump said in a tweet.

McConnell offered muted criticism of Trump on Thursday, saying he was “a little concerned about some of the trade rhetoric” by the president and others.

“Trade is a winner for America,” McConnell told a gathering of Kentucky farmers and lawmakers. “The assumption that every free-trade agreement is a loser for America is largely untrue.”

Trump has repeatedly condemned trade deals he believes are bad for the United States. On Tuesday, he cast doubt on any deal emerging to improve the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada.

Reporting by David Alexander, Susan Cornwell, Makini Brice, David Morgan and Ayesha Rascoe in Washington and Karen Brettell and Megan Davies in New York; Writing by Frances Kerry; Editing by Bill Trott and Andrew Hay

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