Ryan Picks Mnuchin in Debate With Mulvaney on Debt Limit

House Speaker Paul Ryan said that when it comes to negotiating legislation to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is in charge.

Internal White House divisions have raised questions about how and when President Donald Trump’s administration expects Congress to authorize more borrowing to keep from defaulting on U.S. debts. Politico reportedTuesday that Trump also stands behind Mnuchin.

“The Treasury secretary is and should always be the person in charge of debt-limit negotiations, debt-limit legislation,” Ryan of Wisconsin told reporters Wednesday. “That’s the natural thing.”

Mnuchin has said he prefers a clean bill without other conditions attached, while White House budget director Mick Mulvaney — a former House member in the conservative Freedom Caucus — has said other policy changes and spending cuts could be included to reach a deal.

Mulvaney and Mnuchin have also differed on when the government will run out of money. Mnuchin has offered a broad range — the second half of the year — while Mulvaney has said it could happen as soon as August. Independent analysts expect the debt limit to be reached in October or November.

QuickTake: Why the U.S. Is Debating the Debt Ceiling All Over Again

The White House has said that Congress should extend the government’s borrowing authority before leaving for a monthlong recess on July 28.

“The Trump administration believes it is important to raise the debt ceiling as soon as possible,” said Natalie Strom, a White House spokeswoman. “We are confident that Congress will continue to ensure the full faith and credit of the United States.”

Mixed messages from the White House have made it difficult for Republicans in Congress to address other matters, including health care and a tax overhaul. The uncertainty has exposed divisions within the GOP and undermined investor confidence in the pro-growth agenda Republicans promised with a unified government.

Ryan declined to say whether he prefers a debt-limit bill free of additional policy provisions, and he didn’t commit to seeking support from Democrats on the legislation. Republican fiscal hawks, including Mulvaney, have in the past resisted raising the debt ceiling, forcing GOP leaders to rely on Democratic votes to help pass an increase.

Russ Vought, nominated by Trump to be deputy budget director, said during his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday that he wants a debt-ceiling bill to include changes in the budget process. That would put Vought, formerly of the conservative group Heritage Action, in the same camp as Mulvaney, in opposition to Mnuchin.

“The debt limit needs to be raised, but it doesn’t seem smart not to try to take account and deal with the problem,” Vought said, responding to Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana, who said he also wants a debt bill with attachments.

Speaking about spending legislation, Vought said a government shutdown might be good if Congress doesn’t send Trump spending bills that meet his requirements. He said his views track with Mulvaney’s on that issue.

Trump tweeted in May that a “good shutdown” could be needed in September to get spending on track.

Ending Brinkmanship

Vought said he wants to consider revisions to end brinkmanship as part of the process of passing spending bills, and to end spending on programs whose legal authorization has expired.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California signaled last week that this time around, Democrats might use the debt-ceiling debate to try to block Republicans from enacting tax cuts for the wealthy. Second-ranking House Democrat Steny Hoyer said Wednesday that Republicans shouldn’t hold a debt measure “hostage” with poison-pill additions.

If a debt-limit bill free of policy riders came to the floor, “We would be telling our members that this would be a responsible action to take,” said Hoyer of Maryland.

The Freedom Caucus of about three dozen House members can usually block legislation that lacks Democratic support. The group issued a statement last month reiterating its position that debt-limit legislation should limit or cut spending and work toward a balanced budget.

Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina said that if Democrats are going to vote for a clean debt-limit bill, GOP leaders should put the measure on the floor now. Meadows said such a bill would pass, although he wouldn’t vote for it. 

Representative Scott Perry, a Freedom Caucus member from Pennsylvania, said GOP leaders have been “tight-lipped” about how they’ll resolve the debt-limit issue.

“Do you toy with the temporary default, so to speak, now and just let it keep going until the major default when you can’t literally cannot pay your bills because you have no money?” Perry asked after a Republican meeting Wednesday. “What’s the answer?”