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White House ramps up debt limit pressure campaign on Republicans

The plan is to accelerate what’s become a near-daily barrage of attacks by way of planned events, television interviews and closely coordinated messaging with Hill Democrats.

WASHINGTON — With the United States just days away from default, the White House is ramping up its public pressure campaign on Republicans who do not support raising the nation's debt limit.

The plan is to accelerate what’s become a near-daily barrage of attacks on Republicans by way of planned events, television interviews with top officials and closely coordinated messaging with Hill Democrats, an administration official said.

He debuted the tough talk Monday, accusing Republicans of playing “Russian roulette” with the economy. Then Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned of a recession if the debt limit were not raised by Oct. 18, and White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the Republican opposition to recent efforts by Democrats to pass a debt ceiling increase a “vote to default.”

On Wednesday, Biden met publicly with corporate executives to spotlight the dire consequences if the debt limit is not raised, criticizing Republican senators as "not only hypocritical but dangerous and a bit disgraceful."

The public pressure is not complementing closed-door conversations on a path forward — it's replaced them, with the White House adamant about closing the door on routine negotiations with Republicans over raising the debt ceiling, the official said. Biden is asking Republicans not to filibuster a bill currently before the Senate that would do that, with the only incentive sparing the nation an economic crisis.

“What we’re saying is very clear: Get out of the way so we don’t end up in this catastrophic situation and we do the work of the American people,” Jean-Pierre said Tuesday. “Look, the Republican filibuster of the debt ceiling is dangerous, and it's reckless. They are playing chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States.”

White House officials, a number of whom served in former President Barack Obama's administration, have made it a priority to avoid a negotiating standoff like the one they faced a decade ago, when Republicans demanded — and got — billions of dollars in cuts to government programs in order to raise the debt ceiling.

“He and I have been down this road once before, back when I was vice president,” Biden said Tuesday of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was majority leader during the 2011 standoff.

Now Biden is confronting a related challenge that faced the president he served then: a fight that risks detracting from his wider domestic policy agenda. Biden was in Michigan on Tuesday trying to build public support for a $550 billion infrastructure plan and a proposed $3.5 trillion bill for a range of social programs. He made no mention of the debt ceiling in remarks there.

Unlike during a government shutdown, where there is now some precedent and procedure in place for keeping the federal government running, there is no playbook for how to respond to a default. Administration officials have said their focus though is on avoiding such a scenario.

Senate Republicans are refusing to lift the debt limit to pay for spending that has already been appropriated, blocking a vote on a government funding bill offered by Democrats last week because it included a debt ceiling extension.

The Senate is scheduled to hold a procedural vote Wednesday that would allow Democrats to raise the debt ceiling on their own.

If Congress does not act and the Treasury Department's efforts to keep funds flowing are exhausted in the next two weeks, there is nothing the administration can do to enable the U.S. to continue paying its bills, and all payments for federally-funded programs and federal employees would eventually stop.

“There is only one viable option to deal with the debt limit,” a Treasury Department spokesperson said in a written statement. “Congress needs to increase or suspend it, as it has done approximately 80 times, including three times during the last Administration."