WASHINGTON -- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a direct challenge to the Obama administration on Sunday, telling "Fox News Sunday" that Republicans will vote against raising the debt ceiling if it is not coupled with a "credible effort" to shrink the nation's overall debt.
"I don't intend to support raising the debt ceiling, and I don't believe any Senate Republicans do unless we do something important related to spending and debt," McConnell said. "It is going to have to carry something with it that the markets, foreign countries and the American people believe is a credible effort to get a handle on spending and the debt effort."
The United States will reach its debt ceiling within the next few months, setting the stage for another battle over government spending. Lifting the debt ceiling, or authorizing the Treasury to borrow money to pay its obligations, was once a routine action. But Republicans have opposed increasing the limit in recent years, voting against it multiple times in the 111th Congress. Because Democrats hold a majority in the Senate, efforts to block an increase to the debt limit have been thwarted.
McConnell acknowledged that Republicans would be out-voted on raising the debt ceiling. "The Democrats can raise it themselves if they choose to and try do nothing whatsoever about the problem," he said.
Not raising the debt limit would have a disastrous effect on financial markets by causing the United States to default on its loans, according to government officials. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a member of the bipartisan "Gang of Six" working toward shrinking the deficit, told "Fox News Sunday" he opposes Republican efforts to tie the debt ceiling vote to other actions on the deficit.
"I get a little worried when we start tying it to the debt limit vote," Warner said. "Because as Chairman Ben Bernanke of the Federal Reserve has said, if we play Russian Roulette with the instability of the financial markets, if we were to default on America's obligation to pay, you could end up seeing us back in a financial crisis like 2008."
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Congress should focus on shrinking the deficit, but must be realistic about the timeline.
"We're not going to balance America's budget in the next six months," Durbin said on CNN's "State of the Union." "It's time for people of goodwill in both political parties to sit down and work it out. If there are going to be new revenues or cuts in other areas, let's get it done. Let's move forward."
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