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Blocking the debt ceiling is a reckless move by Senate Republicans | Editorial
Both parties amassed the nation’s debt, and both must help pay.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks to the chamber for a test vote on a government spending bill at the Capitol in Washington on Monday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., walks to the chamber for a test vote on a government spending bill at the Capitol in Washington on Monday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) [ J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE | AP ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Sep. 28

Senate Republicans have their reasons for opposing the infrastructure bill as well as the larger domestic spending package. Among them, they want to thwart the Democrats’ desire for a legislative win ahead of the midterm elections. But there is no reason to block an essential vote on raising the nation’s debt ceiling. Doing so is as reckless and self-serving as it is hypocritical. Both parties added to the debt — the Trump tax cuts, anyone? — and now they need to pay for it. Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida are particularly brazen for ignoring this shared sense of responsibility.

Senate Republicans on Monday blocked a spending bill needed to avert a government shutdown and a default on the federal debt, insisting the Democrats, as the party in the majority, were obliged to address these crises on their own. The Republicans’ move was intended to tighten the screws on Democrats as an intra-party split between centrists and progressives imperiled two key Democratic priorities this week — a $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan the Senate already passed and a larger social spending package of up to $3.5 trillion. By holding out, Republicans want to paint Democrats, who have only thin majorities in Congress, as incapable of governing. Republicans hope the strategy will help them retake control of Congress after elections next year.

Of course, this messaging ignores some inconvenient facts. Republicans voted to raise the debt ceiling by trillions of dollars when their party was in control, and the current increase is needed to cover spending under previous administrations of both parties, not to pay for new spending bills working through Congress. And neither party wins by playing chicken and threatening the nation’s full faith and credit with default.

That’s why it’s galling to see the very politicians who’ve bellied up to the buffet now attempt to dine and dash. Rubio and Scott both voted Monday against proceeding to raise the debt limit. Where was that fiscal restraint in March 2020, when both voted to send the $2 trillion pandemic-relief CARES Act to President Donald Trump’s desk? Or back in December 2017, when Rubio voted for Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut, which then-Gov. Scott supported? In reality, the Republican hard line on spending often hinges on who is president and what the money’s for. Rubio and Scott, for example, have lobbied for hundreds of millions of dollars toward Everglades restoration in South Florida. And in June, Scott co-authored a resolution blasting President Joe Biden’s $715 billion defense budget as inadequate, calling on “all the necessary resources” to sustain America’s “overwhelming military might.”

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned lawmakers on Tuesday of “catastrophic” consequences if Congress failed to lift the debt limit by Oct. 18. The failure could disrupt entitlement payments to seniors, cause interest rates to rise on auto and home loans and destabilize the global financial system. “It would be disastrous for the American economy, for global financial markets, and for millions of families and workers whose financial security would be jeopardized by delayed payments,” Yellen said.

Republicans may sense an opportunity to torpedo Biden’s agenda and wrest congressional control from Democrats, but nobody wins by defaulting on the debt. Congressional inaction has already unsettled investors and further polarized a nation still managing the pandemic. Republicans had a hand in amassing this debt, and they need to put the nation’s interest before any perceived partisan advantage.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.