WASHINGTON — House Democrats said Wednesday they would try to do away with the federal debt ceiling altogether.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and five other Democrats, are the sponsors of the Full Faith and Credit Act, legislation that would simply get rid of the debt ceiling. The existing cap on debt serves as the federal government’s official borrowing limit and affects how the government pays its bills — debts that have already been incurred.
The U.S. could well default on its loans sometime next month or in early March if Congress does not raise the current debt limit, set at $16. 4 trillion.
Some in the Republican majority have vowed to block any deal to increase the limit on borrowng unless it includes spending cuts. Removing the ceiling would give the executive branch unchecked authority to pay the government’s bills, but it would not by itself invite more spending.
“As the debt ceiling soon comes up for its routine increase in February, extremists are intent again in blackmailing the country,” Nadler said.
Nadler was joined by Democratic Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Hank Johnson of Georgia, Jim Moran of Virginia, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and Peter Welch of Vermont. The group includes some of the more liberal members of the House.
The lawmakers have not yet convinced any Republicans to join their cause, however, and it’s unlikely House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, would ever allow a vote on the proposal.
Schakowsky admitted after the news conference that their bill is probably dead on arrival, saying she “doesn’t have any illusions.”
The U.S. formally hit the debt ceiling in December, but the federal government has used “extraordinary measures” to ensure its bills are still paid. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said this week these measures will run out in mid-February.
Obama urged Congress to raise the debt ceiling Monday during his own news conference.
“(Republicans) will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the economy,” Obama said. “The full faith and credit of the United States of America is not a bargaining chip. And they better decide quickly because time is running short.”
Congress last raised the debt ceiling in July 2011. After intense negotiations between Obama and Boehner, Congress agreed to a deal and raised the debt limit. But some Republicans vehemently opposed the deal. The uncertainty spooked worldwide markets and led to a downgrading of the nation’s credit rating.
House Democrats on Wednesday said their proposal to kill the debt ceiling once and for all would prevent chronic bouts of high-stakes negotiations and future downgrades.
“What was once a mere legislative relic has now been weaponized,” Moran said. “The debt limit is an unnecessary legislative hurdle.”
Congress has voted 10 times the past decade to raise the debt ceiling.