May 11, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Senate conservatives break with Trump’s debt ceiling comments

Former President Trump. Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Images via Getty Images.

Conservative senators on Thursday broke with the cavalier approach to a potential U.S. debt ceiling default laid out by former President Trump.

Why it matters: It’s a rare moment in which Trump’s congressional allies, spooked by the possible economic fallout of a default, are out of step with the former president who still dominates their party.

Driving the news: Trump told CNN moderator Kaitlan Collins at a town hall on Wednesday, "I say to the Republicans out there – congressmen, senators – if they don’t give you massive cuts, you’re going to have to do a default."

  • Trump said while he doesn't believe a default is going to happen, "it’s better than what we’re doing right now because we’re spending money like drunken sailors."
  • He also suggested that the effects of a default may not be as calamitous as economists have warned, musing that "it’s really psychological more than anything else" and "maybe it’s, you have a bad week or a bad day."

The state of play: Lawmakers don't appear to share that sanguine viewpoint.

The Treasury Department's new estimate that the U.S. could reach the fiscal cliff as early as June 1 has kickstarted negotiations and brought the two parties closer to compromise on spending cuts.

  • Congressional leadership and the White House most recently held an hours-long, staff-level meeting at the Capitol on Thursday afternoon to hammer out a potential deal to raise the debt ceiling.
  • President Biden, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other congressional leaders, after sitting down at the White House on Tuesday, are set to meet again on Friday.

What they’re saying: “Default should be avoided, period,” said Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), telling Axios that Biden and McCarthy “are going to have to negotiate through this.”

  • “We will not and should not default on our debt,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.).
  • “We’re not going to default,” said Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), “It’s bad enough right now, all the inflation we have … it would effect [the economy].”
  • Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) told Axios “no,” he doesn’t agree with Trump’s comments, adding: “There is no world in which [a default] happens.”

Yes, but: Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) argued Trump's comments are a bluff aimed at bolstering the GOP's negotiating position, telling Axios "what the president is doing is really giving political advice ... not financial advice."

  • "He's basically saying that if the Democrats are going to play a game of chicken, Republicans have to be willing to play that game too," Vance said.
  • He added, "I think what President Trump is doing is fundamentally the right thing, which is Republicans can't preemptively break ranks here or we're going to have a terrible negotiating position in the talks with Biden."
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