Steny Hoyer: The Debt Limit ‘Is Not Real’

By Elizabeth Harrington | December 11, 2012 | 2:22pm EST

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) (AP photo)

– House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday that the debt limit is “not real” and should not be part of any negotiations to avert the fiscal cliff.

“First of all, I again would urge the Speaker not to use the debt limit to the detriment of the credit-worthiness of the United States of America as a leverage point,” Hoyer said during his weekly pen and pad briefing with reporters on Capitol Hill. “It is not a leverage point.”

“It is not real,” he said. “It is a phony political debate. We have incurred debt and the United States will meet its obligations, pure and simple.”

Republicans have suggested using the debt limit as a tool to lower spending in negotiations to avoid automatic across the board tax increases and spending cuts at the end of the year -- the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

“Look, the only way we ever cut spending around here is by using the debate over the debt limit to do it. Now the president wants to remove that spur to cut altogether,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said last week.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has insisted that any increase in the debt limit must be accompanied by equal cuts in spending.

But Hoyer said he had no problem handing over to President Barack Obama the authority the Constitution gives to Congress to borrow money, because the debt limit is “not real.”

“If this were real I would agree that the Congress ought not to give up its authority to do that,” he said.

“But Congress does ultimately have the authority to do it, obviously; demonstrably it has that authority, but no one believes -- not Mitch McConnell, not John Boehner, not Eric Cantor, ‘cause I’ve talked to all of them -- certainly none of us believe that America’s defaulting on our debt makes sense.”

Both Hoyer and the president are advocating for the so-called “McConnell Rule” to cede Congress’s authority to the executive branch to raise the debt ceiling. President Obama’s initial offer on the fiscal cliff included permanent and unilateral authority to raise the debt limit.

During last summer’s debt limit negotiations, Mitch McConnell proposed allowing President Obama to raise the debt limit unless two-thirds of Congress denied the request within 15 days.

The president, however, could then veto Congress and still allow the debt limit to be raised.

“I think Mitch McConnell made a useful suggestion -- he’s now backed off of it, as I understand,” Hoyer said.

The current debt limit stands at $16.394 trillion, which the Treasury Department expects to reach before the end of the year. As of the close of business Friday, the public debt reached $16.365 trillion, leaving less than $30 billion before the ceiling is met.

The Constitution expressly gives the power to borrow money only to Congress – not the president. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 2 says: "Congress shall have power ... To borrow money on the credit of the United States."

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