WASHINGTON — Democratic leaders in the Senate on Friday urged President Barack Obama to consider bypassing Congress to prevent the nation from defaulting on its spending obligations if lawmakers cannot agree to raise the nation's $16.4 trillion debt ceiling next month.
In a joint letter that served as a warning to congressional Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and his leadership team encouraged Obama to "take any lawful steps" to avoid default — "without congressional approval, if necessary."
The letter appeared to be an effort to push the White House to play hardball in its negotiations with Republicans as the government edges up against a legally imposed limit on borrowing.
Republicans have insisted that they will not increase the government's borrowing authority without deep spending cuts, including to entitlement programs. On Friday they rejected the idea of unilateral action by the president.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Americans "will not tolerate" increasing the debt ceiling without spending cuts.
Obama has said he considers raising the limit an obligation of Congress because doing so allows the government to pay off debts it has already incurred. He has insisted he will no longer negotiate spending concessions in exchange for a higher ceiling.