Senate Minority Whip John Thune said Republicans want to hold the country's credit hostage if they can't cut Social Security benefits.
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican in the U.S. Senate, said on Tuesday that the GOP plans to use the debt ceiling as leverage to make cuts to Social Security and other social safety net programs.
"There's a set of solutions there that we really need to take on if we're going to get serious about making these programs sustainable and getting this debt bomb at a manageable level before it's too late," Thune said in an interview with Bloomberg News, adding that raising the retirement age is one of the solutions Republicans want to explore.
Playing politics with the debt ceiling could have disastrous consequences for the American economy, observers say.
If the debt ceiling is reached — which the Treasury Department says will happen some time in 2023 — the United States will be unable to pay bills for spending already authorized by Congress.
"Failure to set the debt ceiling at the level necessary to meet borrowing needs could jeopardize the full faith and credit of the United States by preventing the Treasury from paying the government's bills," the House Budget Committee said in an explainer posted to its website.
Yet Republicans are dangling the threat of not raising the debt ceiling in order to make cuts to Social Security, one of the most popular social safety net programs.
The program has near universal support, according to an AARP poll from 2020. Ninety-six percent of voters said Social Security is "either the most important government program or an important one." What's more, voters do not want to see the program cut, with 89% telling AARP that "it would be unfair to people who are retired or near retirement to make major changes to Social Security that would affect them."
Republicans have floated multiple ideas for making cuts to the program, including raising the retirement age from 65 to 70 and forcing Congress to reauthorize spending and put the program at risk every year.
It's not the first time Republicans have held the debt ceiling hostage in an effort to extract concessions from Democrats.
In 2011, after the GOP took control of the House, Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling unless then-President Barack Obama agreed to significant spending cuts to the federal budget.
Eventually, Republicans agreed to raise the debt ceiling after Democrats compromised, allowing caps on discretionary spending.
Republicans haven't said how far they're willing to go this time with the debt ceiling.
Thune told Bloomberg, however, that defaulting is "not an option."
Democrats criticized Thune's plan. Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota called it "appalling but not surprising."
"Republicans will hold our entire economy hostage in their crusade against Medicare and Social Security," Smith tweeted.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.