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Biden accuses Republicans of 'Russian roulette' on debt limit

The fight over the debt ceiling is coming to the forefront as the White House is seeking to reset the messaging around two spending bills deadlocked in Congress.
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Monday sought to ratchet up pressure on Republicans to work with Democrats on raising the debt limit, accusing Republicans of playing "Russian roulette" with the U.S. economy.

Biden warned Americans that if Congress failed to act, mortgage rates would increase, retirement savings would go down and the U.S. could lose its financial credibility around the world. He called on Republicans to allow a vote on the debt ceiling this week, and sought to counter a GOP argument linking the debt limit to spending bills currently being considered.

"The reason we have to raise the debt limit is in part because of the reckless tax and spending policies under the previous Trump administration for four years," Biden said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Monday called on Congress to pass legislation to raise the debt ceiling by the end of the week to avoid defaulting on the nation’s debt. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said the government is likely to exhaust its extraordinary measures to keep the debt limit suspended by Oct. 18.

Senate Republicans have insisted Democrats raise the limit without Republican votes, blocking a vote on a government funding bill offered by Democrats last week because it included a debt ceiling extension. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a letter to Biden on Monday that if Democrats want to pass a $3.5 trillion spending package on their own, they should also raise the debt limit on their own.

The fight over the debt ceiling is coming to the forefront as the White House had sought to reset the messaging around two separate spending bills deadlocked in Congress. Officials had looked to get the focus back on the content of the bills, such as programs that would cut prescription drug prices and lower child care costs, and away from the process and debate over the price tag, which has been at the center of infighting among Democrats in Washington, said a White House official.

Biden planned to travel to the working-class town of Howell, Michigan, on Tuesday to “continue rallying public support” for the bills, the White House said Sunday in a statement. Biden said Saturday that he may make other stops this week, though the official said nothing has been finalized.

Biden said over the weekend that he believed the messaging around the bills had gotten muddled and that he hoped to improve the sales pitch. The bills — one for $550 billion on infrastructure and another for a proposed $3.5 trillion to fund a range of social programs — are part of a major campaign promise Biden made to rebuild the country’s physical and “human” infrastructure and have been the focus of his domestic policy agenda as president.

“There's an awful lot that’s in both of these bills that everybody thinks they know, but they don’t know what's in them,” Biden told reporters Saturday. “When you go out and you test each of the individual elements in the bill, everyone is for them, not everyone, over 70 percent of the American people are for them.”

Both the infrastructure bill and the social spending measure have the support of Democrats, but moderates have pushed to reduce the size of the social safety net bill while progressives insist the spending is needed especially following the economic upheaval caused by the pandemic.

Progressive House Democrats refused on Friday to vote for the smaller infrastructure bill until they had more assurances the larger social spending bill would also pass the Senate. Both bills only need Democratic support because they are being put forward through a legislative process known as reconciliation.

In Washington, much of the focus by the White House this week will be on trying to reach an agreement among Democratic senators on the larger social safety net bill.

Biden had numerous phone calls over the weekend from his Delaware home with members of Congress, said the official, who declined to say which members.

Biden met with House Democrats on Friday, telling them there is a need to compromise and that even with a smaller price tag they can still make a significant difference, the official said.

Biden's struggle to get the bills passed comes with the U.S. two weeks from defaulting, if Congress doesn’t act to raise the debt limit. The president will make remarks Monday from the White House urging Congress to act “to fulfill its shared responsibility and address the debt ceiling," the White House said in a statement.

The new messaging effort comes after weeks of infighting among Democrats that have left moderates and progressives at a stalemate over how to move forward. House Democratic leaders failed to unify their party Friday to pass the infrastructure bill despite a last minute scramble by the president and senior White House officials to try to bridge the divide.

Biden blamed a string of floods, hurricanes and wildfires in August and September for his lack of travel to make his case for the bills, beyond a handful of events earlier in the summer promoting infrastructure spending.

“I heard on television, and it wasn’t totally legit, ‘Why wasn’t Biden going around the country selling this before?'” Biden said to reporters Saturday. “Well, folks, two little things like we had hurricanes and floods, and we had little things. … Anyway, a lot was going on. A lot was going on.”

Biden also spent much of August, a time White House officials had said they intended to use to build support for the bills, focused on the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban and the scramble to evacuate Americans and some Afghans from the country.