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Schumer Says Debt Ceiling Threats Would Be ’Playing With Fire’

Jan. 17 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Senator Charles Schumer said that threatening to deny an increase in the government’s debt ceiling would be “playing with fire.”

“If we didn’t renew the debt ceiling, our soldiers and veterans wouldn’t be paid, social security checks wouldn’t go out,” the New York Democrat said yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “Worst of all, we might permanently threaten confidence of the credit markets in the dollar, which would create a recession worse than the one we have now, or even a depression.”

Republicans in Congress told President Barack Obama and Democrats last week they won’t agree to raise the government’s debt limit unless there are specific spending cuts. In a letter to congressional leaders, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the $14.29 trillion debt limit may be reached as soon as March 31 and “most likely” by May 16.

Schumer said both parties will “have to come together on spending,” adding that Democrats “agree there ought to be spending cuts.” He said he is “glad” that Republican House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor have said they won’t use the debt ceiling as a threat.

Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, said on “Meet the Press” that failing to increase the debt ceiling would be “nothing compared with what’s going to happen to us if we don’t address the real issues facing our country” and work on spending cuts.

Health-Care Repeal

With the House, now with a Republican majority, set to consider legislation to repeal the health-care overhaul enacted by a Democratic-controlled Congress, Coburn said, “We’re not through the debate on health care in this country.”

Congress enacted the health-care law in March as the centerpiece of Obama’s domestic agenda. The $940 billion plan, passed with no Republican support, aims to provide coverage for 32 million uninsured Americans.

House Republicans delayed a planned vote on health care last week after the Arizona shooting rampage that killed six people and critically injured Democratic U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. The vote is now scheduled for Jan. 19.

While House Republicans have enough votes to pass a repeal, the Democrats who control the Senate say they will block it there.

Increased Civility

Representative Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, said he expects more civility in the debate over repealing the health-care law in the wake of the killings in Tucson.

“I’m not sure the substance of the debate will change that much,” Flake said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program. “Republicans are committed to repealing the law in the House, obviously, but I do think the tone will change and that’s a good thing.”

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz said calling health-care overhaul a “jobs-killing” measure isn’t appropriate. “All of us need to be more careful about the words that we choose to use,” Schultz, a Florida Democrat, said on CBS.

The debate should focus on specific parts of the legislation that are contentious, said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat.

“If we can move that conversation to what about the bill do you want to change, that is a legitimate debate that we should frankly have,” Gillibrand said on CBS. “The bill’s not perfect. It never has been.”

Schumer said there are changes to the bill both parties can work on together, such as the repeal of a provision requiring businesses to report annual expenses to individual vendors in excess of $600.

That mandate, known as the 1099 rule after an Internal Revenue Service form used by businesses, “puts too big a burden on small business,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sandrine Rastello in Washington at Catherine Larkin in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at

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