WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday she will attempt to finalize a deal that would raise the debt ceiling in the next few weeks instead of delaying until autumn, heeding dire warnings from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that the government could fall behind on its bills by early September.
Pelosi, the California Democrat, told reporters she wants to raise the debt ceiling as part of a deal that would set spending levels for the next two years. Many lawmakers on Capitol Hill had expected to vote on a spending and debt package wouldn't occur until September, but Pelosi indicated for the first time Thursday they needed to act more swiftly.
"Before recess," she said, referring to a long August break.
Asked about the prospects for a deal, she said "We'll see. We're going back and forth."
Pelosi's comments came shortly after she spoke with Mnuchin for at least the second time this week. He has been arguing for weeks that Congress needs to move much faster than lawmakers were inclined to ensure Treasury has enough money to pay its bills.
As Pelosi tries to whip up momentum on Capitol Hill, top White House officials have also been scrambling to formulate their approach. Mnuchin and others met in the White House on Thursday afternoon to discuss their spending and debt ceiling strategy.
Meanwhile, the White House has told federal agencies to submit new shutdown contingency plans by the beginning of August, two people briefed on the planning said.
White House officials want to avoid another chaotic shutdown if Congress doesn't approve a funding bill by the end of September, and many agencies had been caught unprepared during the 35-day shutdown that began in December 2018.
The White House has been trying to broker a budget deal with lawmakers for more than a month, but the Trump administration and lawmakers remain far apart on how much money they want to authorize for the federal budget.
Many government functions are only funded through the end of September, and Democrats were planning to wait and vote on a debt ceiling and budget agreement all at once.
A number of Republican lawmakers had favored this approach as well, as many believe it is politically treacherous to vote for a debt ceiling increase on its own.
The current budget standoff between the White House and lawmakers has been marked by distrust. White House officials have tried to cleave a debt ceiling vote away from a spending vote for weeks, but some Democratic aides have said this is a ploy to drive a government shutdown in October without also forcing a debt ceiling crisis.
This accelerated timeline will pose major tests for Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the White House as they will be forced to decide whether to make major concessions on a spending agreement in a brief window of time.