WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump picked a new fight on Thursday with fellow Republicans whose support he needs to advance his policy agenda, saying congressional leaders could have avoided a “mess” over raising the U.S. debt ceiling if they had heeded his advice.
In the latest in what have become regular criticisms of party leaders, Trump sought to assign blame if Congress fails to reach agreement on raising the cap on the amount the federal government may borrow, with a deadline to do so just weeks away.
Trump said he had advised Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan to link passage of legislation raising the debt ceiling to a measure on veterans affairs that he signed on Aug. 12.
“They … didn’t do it so now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up (as usual) on Debt Ceiling approval. Could have been so easy-now a mess!” he said in Twitter posts.
The Treasury Department, already using “extraordinary measures” to remain current on its obligations, has said the debt ceiling must be raised by Sept. 29. If it is not, the government would not be able to borrow more money or pay its bills, including payments on its debts, which could hurt the U.S. credit rating.
A spokesman for McConnell noted the Senate majority leader had said earlier this week, in an appearance with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, that the debt ceiling would be raised.
McConnell was “unequivocal” about it, said spokesman Don Stewart. He said McConnell also mentioned it again on Wednesday in a statement the Senate leader issued about his “shared goals” with Trump.
Ryan’s office said only that the issue might come up in a television interview Ryan was due to give later on Thursday.
There were some media reports in mid-July that congressional Republicans were considering tying a debt limit increase to funding for veterans medical care, but the veterans bill passed the House in late July and the Senate on Aug. 1 without the additional language attached.
The debt ceiling raise is one of the must-pass measures Congress will take up when it returns on Sept. 5 from recess. Congress also will have about 12 working days from when it returns to approve spending measures to keep the government open.
While the budget and debt cap are separate, they are likely to become entangled, with Republican opponents of a debt ceiling increase likely demanding federal spending cuts.
Trump threatened on Tuesday to shut down the government if Congress failed to secure funding for his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. His threat added a new complication to Republicans’ months-long struggle to reach a budget deal, rattled markets and drew rebukes from some Republicans.
Democrats, solidly opposed to funding the wall, have slammed Trump over his comments.
On the debt ceiling, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday that with Republicans controlling the White House, the House and Senate, “the American people expect and deserve a plan from Republicans to avert a catastrophic default and ensure the full faith and credit of the United States.”
Both the spending and debt ceiling bills could pass the Republican-led House by a simple majority vote, but will need 60 votes to pass the Senate, where Republicans hold 52 of 100 seats, meaning they will need some Democratic support.
A respected think tank said in a report on Thursday the government might not have enough money to pay all its bills on Oct. 2 if Washington does not raise the debt cap. The Treasury not have enough money on that day to make a roughly $80 billion payment that will be due to a military retirement fund, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.
INVESTORS LOOK TO JACKSON HOLE
On Thursday, investors were more broadly waiting for speeches on Friday by central bank governors at a conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for any new indications on monetary policy. U.S. stocks opened higher but then turned negative while U.S. Treasury yields edged higher.
Yields on Treasury bills due in early October rose on concerns that debt payments could be delayed if lawmakers fail to raise the debt ceiling in time.
“There’s disjointedness because of the debt ceiling,” said Lou Brien, a market strategist at DRW Trading in Chicago.
Trump has often expressed public frustration over the fact Congress has not passed significant legislation since he took office in January.
His renewed criticism of the Republican leaders came just a day after the White House and McConnell issued separate statements saying they were continuing to work together on shared priorities, seeking to counter news reports that their relationship is disintegrating.
Trump also reiterated his criticism of McConnell on Thursday over the Senate’s failure in July to pass a bill to replace Democratic former President Barack Obama’s healthcare law.
“The only problem I have with Mitch McConnell is that, after hearing Repeal & Replace for 7 years, he failed! That should NEVER have happened!” Trump said in a tweet.
McConnell offered muted criticism of Trump on Thursday, saying he was “a little concerned about some of the trade rhetoric” by the president and others.
“Trade is a winner for America,” McConnell told a gathering of Kentucky farmers and lawmakers. “The assumption that every free-trade agreement is a loser for America is largely untrue.”
Trump has repeatedly condemned trade deals he believes are bad for the United States. On Tuesday he cast doubt on any deal emerging to improve the North America Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada.
Reporting by David Alexander, Susan Cornwell, Makini Brice and Ayesha Rascoe in Washington and Karen Brettell and Megan Davies in New York; Writing by David Alexander and Frances Kerry; Editing by Bill Trott