Sen. Brian Schatz wants the debt ceiling raised without concessions. Rep. Ed Case says now is the time to take action on the fiscal health of the nation.

WASHINGTON — Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz has a pretty straightforward approach when it comes to cutting a deal with Republicans on raising the debt ceiling to avoid default and the potential for economic catastrophe.

It might best be summed up as: We don’t negotiate with terrorists.

Schatz says he’s not interested in giving GOP negotiators any reason to believe Democrats will go along with such bad policy.

House Republicans narrowly passed a bill late last month that would raise the debt limit by $1.5 trillion in exchange for deep spending cuts over the next decade.

The legislation also called for rolling back signature pieces of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda, including key provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act meant to address climate change and a proposal to forgive billions of dollars in outstanding student loan debt.

Senator Brian Schatz listens during a field hearing held at the East West Center Auditorium.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz says any legislation to raise the debt ceiling should be a clean bill without additional strings attached. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

According to the White House, the legislation would result in Hawaii losing out on at least $260 million in federal grants and thousands of residents being cut out off from funds for food and rental assistance.

Schatz described the bill as “horrific policy” and said it was not an attempt at serious negotiation because there’s no way it could pass the Democrat-controlled Senate, much less survive Biden’s veto pen.

“I just think that the most dangerous thing in the world would be to teach these people that if they hold a gun to the American economy’s head that they can get whatever they want,” Schatz said. “We have to stand firm, and it’s certainly a scary time.”

Over the weekend, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that if Congress doesn’t act soon the country would face “economic calamity.”

She estimated that the U.S. could default on its debt as soon as June 1, which only gives lawmakers a few weeks to come to an agreement before officials start making decisions about what bills to pay.

“Whether it’s defaulting on interest payments that are due on the debt or payments due for Social Security recipients or to Medicare providers, we would simply not have enough cash to meet all of our obligations,” she said in an interview with ABC’s This Week.

Democratic leaders have said that they would prefer to address the debt ceiling on its own without any additional strings attached, but Republicans in the House and Senate have made clear that they will not agree to such a deal.

Top leaders in the House and Senate from both parties are expected to meet with Biden this week to discuss a path forward.

“It’s time to face the music.”

U.S. Rep. Ed Case

Schatz said he would prefer to get rid of the debt ceiling altogether, and in fact has even sponsored legislation to repeal it.

He’s voted twice — once when Barack Obama was president and again when Donald Trump was in the White House — to raise the debt limit without trying to use it as a political cudgel.

It’s OK to debate future federal spending, Schatz said, but not after you’ve already committed to cutting checks already.

“Not lifting the debt ceiling is like running up a big tab at a steakhouse and when the bill comes due you decide not to pay and say, ‘Well, I’m trying to save some money here,’” Schatz said. “The time to save money was before you ordered.”

U.S. Rep. Ed Case, however, sees opportunity in the current stalemate.

Congressman Ed Case FAA Whistleblower Helicopters Press Conference
U.S. Rep. Ed Case is looking for a middle ground in the debt ceiling debate that will allow the U.S. government to address its long-term fiscal health. (Kuʻu Kauanoe/Civil Beat/2020)

Unlike Schatz, Case does not want to jettison the debt ceiling. He considers it a necessary mechanism so that Congress can avoid its “worst instincts” to keep spending money without considering how to address the long-term financial health of the country.

“I don’t like facing debt ceilings or default anymore than anybody else,” Case said. “But if we don’t have it there are absolutely no constraints on us sliding further down the path of what I consider fiscal irresponsibility.”

Case, a Democrat, is a member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus that put forth its own solution to address the debt ceiling while at the same time reining in government spending.

The proposal would temporarily suspend the debt ceiling while at the same time create an external commission to come up with a fiscal package to “stabilize long term deficits and debts” that Congress would have to vote on no later than Feb. 28, 2025.

What that package looks like would ultimately be up to the commission, Case said.

In a closely divided Congress, Case said he views the Problem Solvers Caucus proposal as a “safety valve” in case neither side can come to an agreement.

For too long the country’s leaders — Democrat and Republican — have avoided making painful decisions to rein in spending and increase revenues, Case said, both of of which he believes will be needed to address the country’s ballooning debt, which currently stands at about $31.5 trillion.

“It’s time to face the music,” he said.

Support Civil Beat during the season of giving.

As a small nonprofit newsroom, our mission is powered by readers like you. But did you know that less than 1% of readers donate to Civil Beat?

Give today and support local journalism that helps to inform, empower and connect.

About the Author