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Pelosi says Congress has 'several options' on debt ceiling as partisan battle looms

Fox Business logo Fox Business 9/7/2021 Megan Henney

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday that Congress has "several options" over the coming weeks to raise, or suspend, the debt ceiling before the U.S. government runs out of cash to pay its bills.

Lawmakers missed a deadline at the end of July to extend former President Donald Trump's two-year suspension of the nation's borrowing limit, which was automatically reinstated at the beginning of August.

The debt ceiling, which hit $22 trillion in August 2019, is the legal limit on the total amount of debt that the federal government can borrow on behalf of the public, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB). Once the suspension lifted, the new limit was reinstated around $28.5 trillion, a figure that includes debt held by the public and the government.

Democrats could attach the debt ceiling to the $3.5 trillion tax and spending bill they are planning to approve using a procedural tool known as reconciliation, which allows them to bypass a Senate filibuster by Republicans. By Pelosi was noncommittal when asked whether Democrats had made a decision about coupling it with the reconciliation bill, or a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure measure.

WHAT IS THE DEBT CEILING?

"We’d like to do it in a bipartisan way," Pelosi said. "We don’t ever want to put the full faith and credit [of the U.S.] in doubt

But Senate Republicans are resisting a move to raise the nation's borrowing limit, with 46 of them pledging to oppose any increase this fall with a vote that would require at least 10 GOP lawmakers to pass.

"I can't imagine there will be a single Republican voting to raise the debt ceiling after what we've been experiencing," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said during a recent interview with Punchbowl News.

If the U.S. failed to raise or suspend the debt limit, it would eventually have to temporarily default on some of its obligations, which could have serious and negative economic implications. Interest rates would likely spike, and demand for Treasuries would drop; even the threat of default can cause borrowing costs to increase.

"Failing to increase the debt limit would have absolutely catastrophic economic consequences," Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told lawmakers in June.

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While the U.S. has never defaulted on its debt before, it came close in 2011, when House Republicans refused to pass a debt-ceiling increase, prompting rating agency Standard and Poor's to downgrade the U.S. debt rating one notch.

At the beginning of August, the Treasury Department began deploying so-called "extraordinary measures" to ensure the government can continue to pay its obligations for the time being. But if the debt ceiling is not raised or suspended, the U.S. government can no longer issue debt and will soon run out of cash on hand.

"The period of time that extraordinary measures may last is subject to considerable uncertainty due to a variety of factors, including the challenges of forecasting the payments and receipts of the U.S. government months into the future, exacerbated by the heightened uncertainty in payments and receipts related to the economic impact of the pandemic," Yellen wrote in a recent letter to Congress.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated at the end of July that the government would probably run out of money to pay its bills sometime in the fall, likely October or November. The new debt ceiling, which will include the new spending approved by Congress over the course of the past two years, will likely be around $28 trillion, the CBO said.

Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report 

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