Trump faults top Republicans for debt ceiling ‘mess’

US president attacks Senate leader Mitch McConnell and House speaker Paul Ryan

US president Donald  Trump (left) has again attacked Mitch McConnell (right), the Senate majority leader whom he blames for the Republican party’s failure to pass healthcare reform. Photograph:  Jim Watson and Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

US president Donald Trump (left) has again attacked Mitch McConnell (right), the Senate majority leader whom he blames for the Republican party’s failure to pass healthcare reform. Photograph: Jim Watson and Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

 

Donald Trump has blamed the two most powerful Republican leaders in Congress for a looming crisis over the debt ceiling that must be raised this autumn in order to prevent the US from defaulting on its national debt.

In early morning tweets, Mr Trump attacked Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader whom he blames for the Republican party’s failure to pass healthcare reform. He also criticised Paul Ryan, the House speaker, as he accused both men of creating a “mess”.

“I requested that Mitch M & Paul R tie the Debt Ceiling legislation into the popular V.A. Bill (which just passed) for easy approval,” Mr Trump tweeted, referring to the veterans affairs bill. “They . . . didn’t do it so now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up (as usual) on Debt Ceiling approval. Could have been so easy-now a mess!”

Mr Trump followed up later with another blast at Mr McConnell, a Kentucky senator whose wife Elaine Chao is Mr Trump’s secretary of transportation. “The only problem I have with Mitch McConnell is that, after hearing Repeal & Replace for 7 years, he failed! That should NEVER have happened!” he tweeted about the failed Republican effort to replace the Obamacare healthcare law.

Politicians face two critical challenges when Congress returns from recess on September 5th: passing the budget to avoid a government shutdown, and raising the debt ceiling above the current $19.8 trillion limit.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the treasury will run out of money some time in October, while Steven Mnuchin, treasury secretary, has said the government will no longer be able to pay bills on September 29th.

Difficult relationship

While Republicans control the White House and both houses of Congress, the prospects of a big political brawl over the debt ceiling and the federal budget have risen because of the increasingly difficult relationship between Mr Trump and his party leaders.

US media have reported in recent days that relations between the president and Mr McConnell have deteriorated to a point where both men have engaged in shouting matches. Many Republicans in Congress are frustrated at Mr Trump’s willingness to lash out at his own party, and the fact that he takes no blame for legislative failures.

In a rare move, the White House and Mr McConnell on Wednesday released separate statements playing down reported differences between the two men. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House press secretary, said Mr Trump and Mr McConnell both “remained united” on a range of legislative priorities, including tax reform and building the border wall.

Mr Mnuchin has stressed that the Trump administration wants a “clean” debt ceiling Bill that does not include other measures, such as spending cuts demanded by the Freedom Caucus, a conservative group of House Republicans. Mr Trump faces a potential backlash from his base, however, because of his vocal support on the campaign trail for reining in the US debt.

Fitch Ratings, the credit rating agency, this week warned it could put the US on review for a possible downgrade from its highest “AAA” sovereign rating unless Congress raised the debt limit in a “timely manner”.

During a previous stand-off over the debt ceiling in 2011, S&P downgraded the US from its top rating. Earlier this week, Mr McConnell stressed that there was “zero chance” that Congress would not raise the limit.

Many Republicans have also been frustrated at Mr Trump calling for a government shutdown unless politicians include money in the budget to pay for the wall he wants to build on the US-Mexico border.

At a campaign-style rally in Phoenix on Tuesday, Mr Trump repeated his support for a shutdown unless Congress appropriated money for the wall which he had said during the campaign would be paid for by Mexico.

“Believe me, if we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall,” Mr Trump told his supporters. “The American people voted for immigration control. That’s one of the reasons I’m here.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017