The man in line to be the next leader of Senate Democrats is warning Republicans are "playing with fire" if the debt limit is not addressed before the current speaker's resignation takes effect.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer may never have thought as highly of Speaker John A. Boehner as he does now. That's because the New York Democrat wants the outgoing Republican from Ohio to move as many deals across the House floor as he can before stepping aside around Halloween.
"We hope that we can move as quickly as possible on all of these things. The closer you get to the deadline, whether it's Nov. 5 or Dec. 11 for the budget, the greater risk that the damage will occur," Schumer told CQ Roll Call during an interview in his Hart office.
"I can't see it getting better after Speaker Boehner, so the fact that it's on Speaker Boehner's plate is probably a good thing," Schumer said. "My hope is he'd take both of them off the table, do a favor to ... whoever wins the Republican contest, but more importantly get these things done and done in the right way."
The top priority is raising the debt limit, an issue which would create an immediate crisis for a new speaker if the estimated Nov. 5 deadline from Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew comes true. An analysis by the Bipartisan Policy Center released Wednesday suggested the real "X-Date" may fall as late as Nov. 19.
The House Republican leadership turmoil creates political opportunity for Democrats such as Schumer, but with the stakes so high — a potential U.S. government default — even the Democratic messaging wizard wants the debt limit issue resolved before Boehner leaves.
And even in the Senate minority, Schumer says Democrats won't be afraid to vote to increase the debt limit, despite past protest votes. Raising the debt ceiling was long viewed as a politically toxic vote, though Schumer said he thinks the calculation has changed.
"I think so. Because a group of Republicans flirted with really not renewing the debt ceiling, people saw the damage even in flirting with it," Schumer said. "I don't think Democrats by and large will vote against it. We will vote for it, but our Republican colleagues are playing with fire."
Schumer appeared to be alluding to comments made in a Monday CNN interview with House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who is one of three would-be successors to Boehner.
"I think it's wrong to signal that you're going to cave in the end," Chaffetz said of the repeated insistence by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that there would be no shutdowns or federal defaults on his watch. "I think the Senate majority leader is wrong. I disagree with him."
It used to work differently, with Democrats opposing debt limit increases during the George W. Bush administration. Even President Barack Obama conceded his opposition when he was a Democratic senator from Illinois in 2006 was little more than a political vote .
One of the releases of emails from former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton revealed she asked how many times she had voted against debt limit hikes while serving as Schumer's junior colleague in New York.
Recent debt ceiling debates have demonstrated the vote isn't a game anymore, Schumer said.
"To toy with the full faith and credit of America is really very, very risky. And the fact that they are willing to entertain not renewing the ... debt ceiling is the height of irresponsibility, and I think the American people will see it," Schumer said. "Now that it's Nov. 5 ... there's an urgency to get it done, and get it done quickly." Schumer was dubious on the prospects for a big deal on international tax changes to finance a highway bill, however. That is another issue that must be addressed before Boehner departs, with the current stopgap surface transportation bill due to expire.
Schumer wouldn't tell CQ Roll Call how little of a spending increase Democrats would accept, but he reiterated past statements backing dollar-for-dollar increases on the defense and non-defense sides, as well as sufficient resources to prevent further sequestration.
Schumer was among the Democratic lawmakers from both sides of the Capitol to appear at a rally to promote getting an agreement to avert automatic spending cuts and increasing both defense and non-defense spending.
After speaking at that event, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland echoed Schumer's warnings about the importance of getting big agreements before Boehner departs.
"I think [Boehner] needs to do the right thing by the country, and work on these issues before he leaves. I think he has some responsibility to not walk out in the middle of a crisis," said Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee. "It's not enough just to keep the government open for, you know, a couple more months."