WASHINGTON: Lawmakers in the United States are clearly divided into two camps over the issue of debt ceiling, with one group suggesting talks between the White House and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives while the other opposing it.

A third group of bipartisan lawmakers, however, offered a plan on Sunday to defuse the crisis that many fear could cripple the federal government if not resolved.

The new plan suggests changing the debt ceiling from a fixed dollar amount to a percentage of national economic output.

Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, the Republican co-chair of a moderate “problem solvers caucus”, told Fox News that instead of the current federal debt ceiling of $31.4 trillion, the new suggestion would limit debt to a share of national economic output.

The group’s Democratic co-chair, Josh Gottheimer, also backed this plan.

Other lawmakers urged the White House and the House of Representatives to resolve this issue through bilateral consultations before it gets out of hand.

Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said the White House’s position to not negotiate the debt ceiling issue with the Republicans was a mistake.

“I think it is a mistake,” Manchin told CNN’s State of the Union talk show when asked if the White House’s decision to not negotiate with the GoP was correct. “We have to negotiate. This is a democracy. We have a two-party system.”

Another Democratic Senator, Tim Kaine, pointed out that President Joe Biden had already sent an invitation to House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to discuss the debt ceiling with Republicans. 

The United States reached its technical borrowing limit of around $31.4trn last week, but the Treasury Department said it would take measures to ensure the government can pay its bills until around June. Republicans are demanding guarantees of spending cuts from the White House and Democrats for extending the debt ceiling. Since Republicans control the House, the debt ceiling cannot be extended without their endorsement.

White House officials have said they will not negotiate on that point and its supporters in Congress are demanding a swift raising of the debt limit. The Republicans, obviously, are refusing to do so.

But Manchin, although a Democrat, disagreed with the White House. “We have to negotiate. This is a democracy … we should be able to talk and find out where our differences are. And if they are irreconcilable, then you have to move on from there and let people make their decisions,” he told CNN.

Another senior Democratic lawmaker, Senator Dick Durbin, disagreed with Manchin. “Absolutely not, no negotiation on debt ceiling,” he said, noting that Republicans added trillions of dollars to the national debt under the Trump administration, “and now, they need to pay for it”.

Published in Dawn, January 23th, 2023

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