McConnell Suggests Fight Over Debt Limit in 2014

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday that he "can't imagine" that Republicans would agree to a clean debt limit increase, even though the past two hikes have come without commensurate cuts.

The current debt ceiling agreement is anticipated to last through mid-February, a month after Congress has to fund the government to avoid another shutdown.

"All I can tell you about the debt ceiling is, I doubt if the House or, for that matter, the Senate is willing to give the president a clean debt ceiling increase," McConnell said. "Every time the president asks us to raise the debt ceiling is a good time to try to achieve something important for the country. ... I can't imagine it being done clean. We'll have to see what the House insists on adding to it as a condition for passing it."

McConnell touted the Budget Control Act both as a reason for negotiating over the debt ceiling in 2014 and for voting against Tuesday's procedural motion on the budget deal crafted by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis.

"As I said repeatedly to you and to others over the months, I think busting the caps on the BCA was a big mistake, and I don't think any of you were surprised at how I voted," McConnell said in response to multiple questions about why he did not formally announce his opposition to the bill until after it had cleared the key procedural hurdle.

Avoiding a filibuster of the budget agreement, which sets top-line appropriations levels for the next two years, but still being able to vote against it was an ideal political situation for McConnell. The budget agreement passing decreases the likelihood of another government shutdown next year; voting against such a measure allows McConnell to appeal to his right flank as he faces re-election in 2014.

McConnell's remarks Tuesday were in line with what conservatives have been saying about the debt limit and their opposition to the budget agreement. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a tea party favorite and McConnell supporter, made similar comments to reporters earlier Tuesday.

"Most of the conservatives in our party are opposed to raising the debt ceiling without conditions," Paul said. "We're also opposed to raising the spending over the next two years by busting the budget caps. I think it does a disservice to every conservative in the party who believes we need to go in the opposite direction."