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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre Holds Daily Briefing
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre at a daily news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on July 11 in Washington, DC.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Democrats respond to GOP calls for debt ceiling negotiations: No

“In exchange for not crashing the United States economy, you get nothing,” one Democratic senator said. “You don’t get a cookie."


Late last week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen sent an important letter to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. The cabinet secretary explained that the United States would hit the debt ceiling this Thursday, Jan. 19, and it was time for Congress to begin taking necessary steps to prevent default.

It’s worth emphasizing that hitting the debt ceiling this week does not mean that default is just a few days away. Rather, the Treasury Department will now begin a series of moves — described as taking “certain extraordinary measures“ — to prevent a crisis. But those temporary measures will be exhausted by early June. Before that deadline, lawmakers will have to agree to allow the government to pay its own bills.

“Failure to meet the government’s obligations would cause irreparable harm to the U.S. economy, the livelihoods of all Americans, and global financial stability,” Yellen said, accurately describing reality. She added that even threatening default has “caused real harms, including the only credit rating downgrade in the history of our nation in 2011.”

A day earlier, the new House speaker told reporters that, as far as he’s concerned, there’s no need to wait until the last minute: President Joe Biden, McCarthy said, should begin the process now of negotiating with GOP leaders and making them happy so as to avoid a default.

Democrats are not just rejecting Republicans’ demands, the party that controls the White House and the Senate are also explicitly rejecting the very idea of negotiations. The Washington Post reported:

Congress must raise the debt limit “without conditions,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Friday, soon after Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen announced that her agency will begin “extraordinary measures” next week to prevent the United States government from defaulting on its payment obligations. “We will not be doing any negotiation over the debt ceiling,” Jean-Pierre said.

In the same press briefing, Jean-Pierre added that the process “should be done without conditions. And that’s how we see this process moving forward.” She again reiterated, “There’s going to be no negotiation over it.”

Jean-Pierre was clearly articulating a position held by all Democratic leaders. Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, also said on Friday, “It’s a sacred obligation, the full faith and credit of the United States, and Congress is going to have to deal with the debt limit, and do so without conditions, without games, and without putting our economy at risk.”

Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz recently articulated the party’s position using even more direct language.

“In exchange for not crashing the United States economy, you get nothing,” Schatz said in an interview with The Daily Beast. “You don’t get a cookie. ... You’re just a person doing the bare minimum of not intentionally screwing over your constituents for insane reasons.”

Asked about GOP calls that Democrats join Republicans at the negotiating table, the Hawaiian senator added, “We have to tell them there is no table.”

In some circles, this might be seen as controversial. After all, much of the political world sees an inherent value in Democrats and Republicans sitting down, engaging in talks, and negotiating resolutions to their differences. The more Biden and his party reject the very idea of debt ceiling talks, the more likely it becomes that some will perceive this as unreasonable.

Those perceptions will be profoundly wrong.

What makes the debt ceiling qualitatively different is that this isn’t a policy dispute. What Republicans are doing is manufacturing a hostage crisis, effectively telling Democrats that the GOP is prepared to harm Americans on purpose unless their demands are met. For all intents and purposes, it is a Republican extortion scheme.

If the new House majority wants to try to pass a bill through the American legislative process, pursuing cuts to public investments, it’s welcome to try to do so. But declaring that they’ll crash the economy deliberately unless Democrats meet their demands is an indefensible tactic that cannot be tolerated.

“I don’t know why President Biden says he’s not going to negotiate,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry recently told ABC News.

As it happens, there's no great mystery here. Not to put too fine a point on this, but it’s not just that the president won’t engage in talks with Republican hostage takers, it’s that he can’t: To negotiate with those threatening Americans is to encourage others to threaten Americans.