LISA MASCARO (AP Congressional Correspondent)

WASHINGTON (AP) – Debate over raising the debt ceiling sounds eerily similar: Newly elected House Republicans, who want to challenge a Democratic president in the White House, have refused to raise the debt limit without cutting federal spending.

In 2011, Washington was consumed by debt ceiling negotiations, a high-stakes showdown between the Obama White House and a new generation of “Tea Party” Republicans in the House.

“Now we’re getting down to the hardest part: I’ll trade you my bike for your golf clubs,” chief negotiator Vice President Joe Biden said at the time.

But weeks of tense negotiations between Biden and House Republicans collapsed that summer, plunging Washington into a fiscal crisis. When Republicans in Congress refused to raise the debt ceiling, the government risked a catastrophic default and suffered a devastating credit downgrade, the first in the nation’s history.

Lessons learned from the debt ceiling standoff more than a decade ago are gripping Washington as the White House and Congress prepare for another fiscal standoff — one that looks set to have a very similar outcome. Neither Republicans nor Democrats want to budge.

“The whole debate is a facade,” said William Gale, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution who wrote a book on U.S. debt, “Fiscal Therapy: Cure America’s Debt Addiction and Invest for the Future.”

“It was the height of the Tea Party and they wanted to play muscle, but it’s just such a stupid way to try to do it because you don’t want to risk the good credit rating of the United States. government,” Gale said. “I suspect most of these guys already knew that.”

The Treasury Department has told Congress that the time has come to raise the national debt ceiling, now at $31 trillion, again to allow more borrowing to pay off the nation’s accumulated bills. The Treasury said it had started taking “extraordinary measures” to keep paying the bills, but the money would run out by June.

Raising the national debt ceiling has historically been a routine task, the final task after Congress has authorized federal spending and appropriated the money needed to pay for the nation’s various programs and services.

But everything changed when the Republican Tea Party came to town after the 2010 election.

Saying that Americans “have already been taxed enough,” Tea Party Republicans arrived with a promise to cut federal spending, using the debt ceiling vote as political leverage.

The debt doubled under George W. Bush’s presidency and after the post-9/11 wars abroad, and has risen sharply under President Barack Obama since the Great Recession, hovering around $15 trillion.

At one point, Republicans sought $1-for-1 compromises — a dollar of spending cuts for every dollar of new borrowing. They also wanted a “cut, cap and balance” approach that would eventually rein in the deficit.

“We’ve been meeting for months,” Republican Eric Cantor, the former House Majority Leader who was tasked by Speaker John Boehner to negotiate with Biden, recalled in a recent interview with the Associated Press. “We all sat down. But this year, President Biden refuses to negotiate.”

In the end, House Republicans were unable to negotiate a deal with the Obama White House.

When the debt ceiling deadline approached in August 2011, only an eleventh-hour deal with Senate Republicans led by Mitch McConnell and some Democrats, who tasked a “Supercommittee” with recommending further federal cuts, ensured that there would be no default.

Spooked by the political crisis in Washington, credit markets downgraded the country’s credit rating for the first time, raising the cost of future borrowing.

The Biden White House appears to have concluded that it is not worth negotiating with incoming House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who won a slim GOP majority in last November’s midterm elections and who may — or may not — be able to deliver votes on any debt. ceiling on the right.

“Look, reducing the deficit has always been a top priority,” White House press secretary Karin Jean-Pierre said Monday at the White House.

She said Biden, a Democrat, “has always said he’s happy to talk to anyone who wants to deal with this in a responsible way.”

“But preventing default,” she said, “is a separate matter.”

Biden plans to meet Tuesday with Democratic congressional leaders at the White House and plans to invite McCarthy in the future.

McCarthy tried to push Biden to the table. “I think it’s presumptuous to say, ‘Oh, we’re not going to negotiate anything,'” the speaker told the AP recently at the Capitol.

McCarthy has already shown how difficult it will be to lead his majority, needing 15 votes to make him speaker of the House despite opposition from right-wing Republicans.

To win over the naysayers, McCarthy promised his detractors that he would fight to return federal spending to the fiscal year 2022 level — an 8% cut, or 17% if military spending is cut.

In pushing McCarthy for a tough deal in the debt negotiations, House Republicans may be taking a lesson from the Tea Party era that one way to compel their leadership is to threaten him with impeachment if he backs down.

During his campaign to become speaker, McCarthy also acquiesced to the hard-right’s demand to reinstate a House rule that allows a single lawmaker to file a “vacation petition,” essentially a House vote to remove the speaker.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, R-N.Y., on Monday almost dared McCarthy to put the GOP’s proposed spending cuts on the table. “When Republicans talk about draconian cuts, they have an obligation to show the American people what those cuts are and let the public respond,” he said.

But it’s unclear whether the proposed fiscal year 2022 spending cuts or any such cuts will prompt McCarthy’s hard-right to raise the debt ceiling.

One major difference from 2011 is that “Republicans have not coalesced” around a single position, said Rohit Kumar, who was an aide to McConnell during that showdown.

“At this point, I think it’s unclear what 218 Republican votes combined with raising the debt limit can get, even as an initial bid,” said Kumar, now a managing director at tax services firm PwC, referring to the vote count. usually required to pass legislation by the House of Representatives.

McConnell is again expected to play a key role in defusing the debt ceiling standoff, with some pointing to bipartisan Senate legislation that would provide a spending overhaul much like the failed Supercommittee was tasked with finding cuts after the 2011 debt ceiling dismantling.

“Forget the Supercommittee,” Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., told the AP in a recent interview. “What a ridiculous result.”

Many House Republicans were absent from Congress during the 2011 debt ceiling debate. Rep. Bob Hood, R-Virginia, one of McCarthy’s supporters, said: “I’m certainly not focused on what happened 10 years ago.”


Associated Press writer Josh Boak contributed to this report.

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