WASHINGTON -- While the new year began without those familiar cliffhanger budget negotiations, White House officials and Republican congressional leaders staked out dramatically different positions Sunday on raising the debt ceiling as early as next month.
That signals a potentially difficult standoff as the first order of business after President Obama delivers his State of the Union Address on Tuesday.
"We're not going to pay them ransom," White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer said in an interview on Fox News Sunday. He said Obama would insist on a "clean" bill that raises the debt ceiling without including provisions on other issues.
"For the president to ask for a clean debt ceiling when we have a debt the size of our economy is irresponsible," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell replied. He said congressional Republicans wanted to attach "something significant" to reduce the deficit or generate jobs. He mentioned approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline as one option.
On CBS' Face the Nation, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz agreed. "What the president is saying is he just wants a blank credit card to keep growing and growing the debt, and I think that's irresponsible," he said, noting that some major budget proposals have been included in past debt-ceiling bills, including in 2011.
Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has warned that the federal government will exhaust its borrowing authority by late February without congressional action, a situation that would threaten a default on bills the United States already owes.
But McConnell dismissed that possibility, without promising the GOP would be the side to fold, if necessary. "We're never going to default," he said flatly, saying he and House Speaker John Boehner "have made that clear." Republicans bore the brunt of public blame when the last budget confrontation led to a partial government shutdown in October.
"I do not believe that Republican leaders will follow Ted Cruz over the cliff again," New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a member of the Democratic leadership, said on CBS. "I think they learned their lesson with the government shutdown."
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