Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said lawmakers could start negotiating on the U.S. debt and spending soon, but not before Republicans commit to increasing the U.S. debt limit to avoid a default on its existing debt obligations.
Sanders discussed the U.S. national debt and an ongoing debate over raising the debt limit during an interview with CNN on Sunday. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a bill that offers to raise the debt by about $1.5 trillion while instituting provisions that are intended to reduce federal spending by about $4.5 trillion over the next decade.
Thus far, President Joe Biden has called for a “clean” debt limit increase, requesting that lawmakers make room for new debt without imposing any new conditions on spending. The Biden administration has repeatedly compared the Republican stance on the debt to a hostage situation, saying it is their demands that place the U.S. at risk of defaulting on a debt payment.
With the passage of the house bill raising the debt limit and imposing spending reforms, CNN anchor Dana Bash asked Sanders whether Biden should begin negotiating with Republicans. Sanders replied that negotiations could start soon, but echoed the Biden administration’s rhetoric that the Republicans have taken the economy hostage.
“I think we can start negotiating tomorrow,” Sanders said in direct response to Bash’s question. “But, you cannot be holding the American people or the world’s economy hostage. What the Republicans have got to say is ‘Absolutely, we are going to make sure that we pay our debt. Let’s sit down and negotiate a budget.'”
Throughout the interview, Sanders—an independent who caucuses with the Senate Democrats and ran twice for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination—tried to separate the issue of raising the debt limit from the issue of reforming government spending.
“[Biden] is right. What we need is a clean debt ceiling bill,” Sanders said. “You pay your bills and then you can sit down and negotiate what a sensible budget is.”
Democratic Split on Debt Negotiations
Several Democratic lawmakers have called on Biden to negotiate with Republicans about debt policy. Like Sanders, some of those Democrats have sought to separate a debt limit increase from debt and spending reform negotiations. In an April 23 CNN interview, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said, “Of course President Biden should sit down with Speaker McCarthy” to negotiate on debt and spending reform but “not right now with the brinkmanship” over the debt limit.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is one Democrat who has not sought to separate a debt limit increase from a negotiation over debt and spending reforms.
“While it is reasonable to sincerely disagree with any specific debt ceiling approach, we will achieve a historic default, and the economic whirlwind which follows, if President Biden continues to refuse to even negotiate a reasonable and commonsense compromise,” Manchin said in an April 20 press statement. “To that end, I applaud Speaker McCarthy for putting forward a proposal that would prevent default and rein in federal spending. While I do not agree with everything proposed, the fact of the matter is that it is the only bill actually moving through Congress that would prevent default. For the sake of the country, I urge President Biden to come to the table, propose a plan for real and substantive spending cuts and deficit reduction, and negotiate now.”
During a Wednesday press conference, Biden said, “I’m happy to meet with McCarthy, but not on whether or not the debt limit gets extended. That’s not negotiable.”
Sanders’s Stance on Spending Cuts
During their Sunday interview, Bash noted that the Republican debt ceiling proposal would avoid a U.S. debt default if it passed. She then asked Sanders if he’s worried that voters will see the Republican proposal and credit Republicans with offering a solution but “start to blame Democrats” for not negotiating on the issue. Sanders responded to her question with a list of issues where he would like to see more bipartisan support.
“I would hope the Republicans understand, there’s something wrong with a health care system where we spend twice as much per capita on health care as the people of any other country. Let’s deal with that, not throw people off of health care. Let’s lower the cost of prescription drugs. Do [Republicans] have the guts to take on the pharmaceutical industry?” Sanders said. “Let’s raise the minimum wage in this country to a living wage. Let’s make it easier for workers to join unions. Let’s protect senior citizens by making sure we can expand Social Security and, by the way, demand that the wealthiest people in this country start paying their fair share.”
Bash interjected to ask Sanders if he’s “open to any spending cuts as part of the ultimate budget deal.”
Sanders listed the military as one specific area where the government could cut spending, and then said he would be open to a plan in which “the largest corporations in this country and the wealthiest people start paying their fair share of taxes.”
Earlier this year, the Biden White House criticized Republicans, claiming they would cut military funding as part of their plan to address the U.S. national debt. In January, White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said, “This push to defund our military in the name of politics is senseless and out of line with our national security needs.”