Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the minority leader in the lower chamber, has said that he believes the debt ceiling should be raised, but lawmakers should reconsider current spending. He said he would not “predetermine” whether Social Security and Medicare would be part of those discussions.
The impending departure of multiple centrist Republican lawmakers has also heightened fears of a standoff in early 2023. Only one House Republican, Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who is retiring, ultimately voted to raise the debt limit in 2021.
“This is going to be a lame duck that’s not going to be for the fainthearted,” Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the chairman of the Finance Committee, said in an interview. Conversations have already begun about how to stave off the threat of cuts to crucial safety net programs or the economic catastrophe that would be unleashed if the United States defaulted on its debt, he said.
With seven weeks remaining between Nov. 14, when lawmakers return after the midterms, and the start of the new Congress on Jan. 3, it is unclear whether Democrats can muster the time or the political will to take up legislation addressing the debt limit.
Congress must pass an omnibus spending package to keep the government open after Dec. 16 and the annual defense policy bill. That legislation could include more money for Ukraine in its war against Russia, after Mr. McCarthy suggested a Republican majority would question future aid to Ukraine.
Mr. Wyden, like other Democratic officials, did not rule out the possibility of his party trying to unilaterally raise the debt limit during a lame-duck session, by using fast-track reconciliation rules that would prevent a Republican filibuster.
“I’m not going to take anything off the table,” Mr. Wyden said, adding, “I think you’ll find growing amount of concern, particularly about gutting Social Security and Medicare, since this is not as if they haven’t told you what they’re going to do.”