Leaders Back Away From Raising Debt Ceiling, Punting Clash to New Congress

Several Republicans, however, have said they do not feel the same urgency to take up the debt limit, amid a December pileup of unfinished legislative work. In the evenly divided Senate, at least 10 Republicans would need to join Democrats to ensure such a measure could advance absent a move to use the reconciliation process.

“I don’t think the debt limit issue is until sometime next year,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, said at a news conference last month.

Asked about the debt limit, Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, said, “I think it’s more important to get the government funded, and I think that might become an obstacle to doing that.”

Agreement on a government funding package has remained elusive, jeopardizing lingering hopes of attaching not only a debt limit measure but a list of legislative priorities. With the funding package left as the lone must-pass measure, lawmakers are eyeing adding a series of priorities, including a bill to overhaul how Congress counts electoral votes, mental health and medical programs, and tax proposals.

After weeks of negotiations, Republicans and Democrats remain at odds over how to split funding between military and social programs. Talks are set to continue through the weekend ahead of the Dec. 16 deadline, though aides said lawmakers could pass a one-week stopgap bill to give negotiations additional time.

But with senior lawmakers wary about upending any fragile funding agreement, a debt limit measure would be unlikely to make the cut.

While several officials in private acknowledged their chagrin that Congress might delay action on the issue, Democrats reiterated that they were prepared to oppose any Republican proposals to cut domestic spending, particularly for Social Security and Medicare.

“It’s an incredible thing that they’re even contemplating going down this road,” said Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, who is set to become the minority leader in January. “But if that’s a fight they want to have, with respect to holding the American economy hostage to the debt ceiling, that is a fight that we are prepared to lean into aggressively — and we will win.”

Jeanna Smialek contributed reporting.

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