Sen. Van Hollen blames House Republicans for 'insane situation' over debt ceiling

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(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Chris Van Hollen on Sunday argued that House Republicans, led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, had created an "insane situation" as the White House negotiates with lawmakers on raising the nation's debt ceiling to avoid a potentially disastrous default.

"What we have right now is Speaker McCarthy and MAGA House Republicans saying that they're going to push the default detonator and blow up our economy if they don't get their way," Van Hollen, D-Md., told ABC "This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz.

"I'm extremely worried about where we are now," he said.

The federal government risks not being able to pay all of its bills as soon as June unless its borrowing limit, currently $31.4 trillion, is raised by Congress.

House Republicans want concessions on spending in order to do so and say that they aren't fueling fears of a default because they already passed a bill to address the debt limit -- laying the blame instead on the president.

Biden, speaking Sunday from Japan where he was attending a summit, said he was willing to compromise on government spending but that Democrats and Republicans remained far apart on increasing taxes.

Van Hollen said on "This Week" that he saw three paths forward.

For the next two days, "Plan A" should remain the ongoing talks between the White House and McCarthy, he said.

But after that, he saw two backups. "Plan B" would be Democrats trying to move their own deal through the House via a discharge petition.

With a discharge petition, Democrats could force a vote on the House floor without McCarthy's backing. But Van Hollen noted they would need some conservatives to join them to pass an alternative plan.

"We only need five, [to] work together with all 213 Democrats to put together the kind of proposal that even about 30 Republicans were talking about as recently as May," he said.

And "Plan C" would be the president invoking the 14th Amendment, which states that the public debt "shall not be questioned," to get around the debt limit.

Earlier this month, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" that using the 14th Amendment could incite a "constitutional crisis."

Biden said in Japan that "I think we have the authority" to use the 14th Amendment but suggested the likelihood that it would be challenged in court gave him pause.

"We have not come up with a unilateral action that could succeed in a matter of two weeks or three weeks," he said. "That's the issue. ... So it's up to lawmakers."

Van Hollen acknowledged on "This Week" that "there's a lot of uncertainty around that approach, it will be litigated," but he maintained that the 14th Amendment "would be better than a default."

"The 14th Amendment is not the preferred alternative. A lot of people predict that even if you go the route of the 14th Amendment, you go into a recession -- but if you default, we're talking about depression," he said.

He likened Republican tactics to hostage-taking even though Biden had "put a trillion dollars of cuts on the table already."

"They're not willing to talk about any revenue from very wealthy people," he said of the GOP, responding to House Budget Committee Chair Jodey Arrington, who said in a separate "This Week" appearance that taxes were a nonstarter, in part because the economy may be slowing.

The goal, Arrington said, was to "rightsize and rein in this bureaucratic bloat" in the government and address the "spending problem that's driving the inflation crisis and some of the economic woes that we're experiencing, along with just this massive and unsustainable debt that we're carrying."

Arrington said Biden had slow-walked negotiations until the default deadline was truly looming, even though House Republicans passed their debt ceiling bill last month.

Biden has cut his foreign trip short, opting to forego traveling to Papua New Guinea and Australia to return to the U.S. and resume debt ceiling discussions. He was set to talk with McCarthy on Sunday as he returned from Japan.

But Van Hollen said he's "always been skeptical."

Part of the problem, he contended, was that McCarthy is a "weak speaker" with little power over House Republicans: "He cannot take back a reasonable proposal to his caucus and expect it to get the votes, especially when you have Donald Trump egging them on and saying, 'Don't give an inch.'"

Sunday, May 21, 2023 at 12:33PM by Madison Burinsky, ABC News Permalink