Utah Sen. Mike Lee backs Freedom Caucus in war of words with White House over debt ceiling
Lee and other conservatives want Biden to agree to conditions before they’ll agree to raise the debt limit
Utah Sen. Mike Lee and other Senate Republicans stood with members of the House Freedom Caucus on Wednesday to back them in their battle with the White House over the debt ceiling increase.
On Monday, a White House statement called the Freedom Caucus’ list of conditions to approve an increase a “five-alarm fire.” Calling the caucus the “MAGA Republican House Freedom Caucus,” the statement said their proposed budget cuts would hurt public safety and border control.
President Joe Biden has said he isn’t willing to negotiate over the debt ceiling increase, instead saying Congress needs to send him a condition-free increase.
But Lee and Florida Sen. Rick Scott praised the Freedom Caucus at a press conference and said Republicans were right to worry about rising debt and government spending.
Scott said Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer “don’t even want to have a conversation” about the debt increase.
Linking the nation’s debt to high inflation, Lee said it wasn’t unusual for Republicans to expect Biden to negotiate over spending cuts in exchange for approving a debt ceiling increase.
“All of a sudden our Democratic leaders are pretending this is apocalyptic stuff, this is Book of Revelation stuff. Dogs and cats living together in the streets,” he said.
Democrats have accused Republicans of putting the nation on a dangerous course by failing to approve an increase in the amount of money the country can borrow. But Lee turned that back on Biden, saying he was putting the country at risk by refusing to negotiate with Republicans over conditions for the increase.
“This isn’t just any ordinary debt ceiling increase, it’s a debt ceiling increase that’s come after more than two years of heavy inflation,” he said.
In exchange for an increase, Republicans have asked for billions in spending cuts, including eliminating an $80 billion increase for the IRS, eliminating climate change-related funding allocated last year, and clawing back some unspent COVID-19 funds. The group also wants Congress to pass a bill that would give elected lawmakers more power over the regulatory system.
Calling the plan “rational” and “common sense,” Arizona Republican Congressman Andy Biggs said Republicans do not want to include entitlement spending cuts in the negotiations.
“We’re not touching Social Security retirement benefits,” Biggs said. “We’re not proposing a reduction in Medicare benefits. And we sure as heck aren’t saying let’s cut border security funding.”
In his recent budget proposal, Biden proposed raising taxes in order to increase government spending. With his approval rating dropping in recent days, Biden may decide to open negotiations with House Republicans over the debt ceiling in order to show he is willing to compromise.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said at a Senate hearing last week that if the government can’t pay its debt it will hurt the already imperiled banking sector, and reiterated the Biden administration’s demand for a “clean” debt ceiling increase.
In a letter sent to Congress earlier this year, Yellen said the government can sustain spending and borrowing through June 5.