Merkley, Kaine, Coons, Feinstein Introduce Legislation to Protect Americans from the Threat of a Default

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley and Virginia’s U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, along with U.S. Senators Chris Coons and Dianne Feinstein, today introduced the Protect our Citizens from Reckless Extortion of our Debt and Irresponsible Tactics (Protect Our CREDIT) Act of 2023—legislation aimed at ending Congress’ abuse of the debt ceiling as a political hostage. The Protect our CREDIT Act would change how the debt ceiling is raised, enabling the executive branch to initiate a process to raise the debt ceiling subject to a congressional override.

The Protect our CREDIT Act presents a common-sense, middle ground approach to solving the looming debt ceiling standoff – based on Mitch McConnell’s own solution for defusing a past debt crisis.

“A debt default would be a disaster for our economy and the cost would be paid by working families—that’s exactly why we need to make sure it never happens,” said Senator Merkley. “With Republicans trying to use the debt ceiling as a hostage to cut Americans’ Social Security and Medicare, families across America are looking to Congress to protect these core programs and take this political pawn off the table. We have been here before, we can reform this process in a way that maintains congressional oversight while de-weaponizing the debt ceiling. That’s exactly what the Protect our CREDIT Act does.”

“We should never flirt with a debt default. Defaulting on our debt could prompt a financial crisis, destroy America’s credit worthiness, raise mortgage and borrowing costs, and threaten payments for Social Security recipients, veterans, and others,” said Senator Kaine. “Rather than playing political games with something as important as the debt limit, we should be taking default off the table. It’s long past time that we pass the PROTECT Our Credit Act to stop dangerous efforts to turn the debt limit into a senseless political game.”

The Protect Our CREDIT Act would reform the process of raising the debt ceiling by making the following changes:

  • Requiring the President to initiate a process, prior to the beginning of the fiscal year, to determine the amount of debt necessary for that year and propose a new debt limit based on the amount of spending authorized and appropriated by Congress.
  • Raising the debt ceiling to the proposed limit unless, within 15 legislative days, Congress passes and the President signs into law a joint resolution of disapproval. A Congressional joint resolution of disapproval would receive special fast track consideration, as it would be placed on the legislative calendar within 5 days and receive expedited consideration by both chambers.
  • If, during the year, the federal debt gets within $250 billion of the limit, the President shall submit another written certification, explaining what drove the need for additional debt and proposing a new debt limit for the remainder of the fiscal year, subject to the same congressional disapproval process.

The idea of having the President increase the debt ceiling, subject to a vote of congressional disapproval, was originally proposed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2011 to allow the much needed debt limit increase to go forward without requiring Republicans to take an affirmative vote. McConnell’s proposal was incorporated into the Budget Control Act of 2011, which passed in August 2011 and authorized the President to increase the debt ceiling in three installments. Under this system, Congress had the option to override the President’s action by passing a joint resolution of congressional disapproval. Though Senator McConnell introduced two joint resolutions of disapproval in August 2011 and January 2012, they were never passed by Congress and the debt ceiling increase was allowed to go into effect.

Making this process for raising the debt ceiling permanent would end the use of the debt ceiling as a tool for political blackmail, and protect the United States from the dire ramifications of a potential default. This procedural move is needed to save the economy, and Congress should embrace it.

Bill text of the Protect Our CREDIT Act can be found here.