FAIRBANKS — Sen. Lisa Murkowski is breaking with Republican leadership in the debate about raising the U.S. debt ceiling, saying the country has a duty to assure it can pay its bills.
Raising the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling has emerged as a possible standoff between congressional Republicans and President Obama. GOP leaders want spending cuts to accompany an increase in the debt limit, but Obama said on Monday that it’s inappropriate for the debt ceiling to be used as a bargaining chip.
Obama said in a news conference that Republicans “will not collect a ransom in exchange for not crashing the American economy.”
GOP House Speaker John Boehner said in response that Americans want reductions in government spending along with any agreement to raise the debt ceiling.
“The consequences of failing to increase the debt ceiling are real, but so too are the consequences of allowing our spending problem to go unresolved,” Boehner said.
Murkowski, at a News-Miner editorial board meeting on Jan. 9, said she doesn’t think the debt limit should be used for political leverage. Since borrowing will be required to pay off debts the country has already incurred, she said it would reflect badly on the U.S. to leave its willingness to pay those bills in doubt.
The government could run out of cash to pay all its bills in full as early as Feb. 15.
According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, in the month that follows the federal government will bring in $277 billion in revenue and face $452 billion in obligations.
Murkowski said not all of her colleagues in the Senate will say it out loud, but she believes most agree that failing to raise the debt limit would harm perception of the country.
“If you incur an obligation, you have a responsibility to pay for that,” Murkowski said.
Rep. Don Young said he supports the move to connect the debt ceiling debate to spending cuts. He said in an email that the initial plan to pair spending cuts and tax increases during the “fiscal cliff” negotiations didn’t materialize, leaving Congress to deal with the problem now.
“The administration got the tax increase they wanted, now they must get serious about spending cuts,” Young said.
Young placed much of the blame on Senate Democrats, who haven’t passed a budget in four years, and on Obama for a climbing deficit.
“Speaker Boehner and House Republicans recognize that the United States has an out-of-control spending problem and the president in the coming months must act in good faith and work with Congress on ways to cut spending and get this country on solid financial footing,” he said.
Murkowski said spending cuts are crucial but shouldn’t be tied to the debt ceiling debate. She singled out needed changes to entitlement spending and the tax code, although she expects any reform efforts would be met with heavy resistance.
Murkowski said she hopes the coming debates over spending cuts — an effort she jokingly dubbed “Son of Fiscal Cliff” — are more transparent than the late-2012 negotiations regarding tax rates.
That closed-door process, which included negotiations between the Obama administration and congressional leaders of both parties, left most members out until it came to the floor for a vote.
“You really did feel like a mushroom in the dark,” she said. “It was not a good process.”
In an email statement, Sen. Mark Begich, Democrat of Alaska, said he is committed to fiscal restraint but that it is important to pay for spending that Congress approved in previous years.
“Americans can’t afford for Congress to not pay the bills it has racked up because families and our economy will suffer,” he said.
Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518. The Associated Press contributed to this article.