Debt Limit Rise Seen Spurring U.S. Republican Demands

The U.S. Senate’s top Republican said he “can’t imagine” that his party would back an increase in the nation’s borrowing authority without demanding some conditions.

“I doubt if the House or, for that matter, the Senate is willing to give the president a clean debt ceiling increase,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters today. “Every time the president asks us to raise the debt ceiling is a good time to try to achieve something important for the country.”

Congress in an Oct. 16 agreement suspended the debt limit through Feb. 7, and Democrats and President Barack Obama are seeking to increase U.S. borrowing authority with no conditions attached. The government can use so-called extraordinary measures to avoid missing payments, which Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew has said will let the government pay bills for about a month longer.

The comments by McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, signal his party is unwilling to accept as a precedent the October deal to suspend the borrowing limit of $16.7 trillion without conditions. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, said Dec. 15 on “Fox News Sunday” that Republicans would decide in January what to seek in exchange for a debt-limit increase.

McConnell, a chief architect of a 2011 law raising the debt ceiling and the October deal to suspend the limit and end a 16-day government shutdown, said he was eager to see what conditions the Republican-controlled House would seek.

“I can’t imagine it being done clean,” he said. “We’ll have to see what the House insists on adding to it as a condition for passing it.”

Health Law

House Republicans, backed by Senate counterparts including McConnell, this year insisted on changes to Obama’s signature 2010 health care law in return for raising the limit. Democrats refused and Republicans eventually dropped their demand.

Republicans have been criticizing the health care law with renewed vigor since the botched October rollout of online health-care exchanges.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, told reporters today that he didn’t think Republicans would seek to force another fight by attaching conditions to an increase in borrowing authority.

“I can’t imagine the Republicans want another fight,” Reid said. “We’ve passed two debt ceilings in the very recent past, and we should do another one.”