An influential Republican senator is urging President Donald Trump to up the ante in talks over his border wall: To push for an increase in the national debt limit as part of a legislative package to avert another government shutdown in mid-February.
GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close ally of the President, told CNN that he spoke with Trump at dinner Monday night about "what would a good deal look like" as lawmakers attempt to negotiate an agreement to stave off another government shutdown -- and floated the possibility that raising the debt limit could be part of the negotiation.
Graham, the senior senator from South Carolina, said he is "hopeful we can solve more than one problem" and added "I think the President understands we need to raise the debt ceiling. It comes due in March, so why not just expedite things."
Taking such a step would amount to a dramatic move by the President: He could dare Democrats to block funding for the border wall and risk sending the country into default in the process. Graham said agreeing to one big package could clear the decks of the thorny issues facing Congress in the weeks ahead.
Congressional negotiators are racing against the clock to strike a deal that would avert another shutdown after the President signed
into law a stopgap funding bill last week that put an end to the longest federal government shutdown in US history. The shutdown was triggered by a standoff between congressional Democrats and the President over Trump's demand for $5.7 billion for a border wall, which Democrats have refused to agree to.
It is unclear whether a deal can be struck to avoid the government shutting down once again as the President remains firm in his demand. The stopgap bill to reopen government provides funding through February 15, leaving a narrow window for negotiation.
Sometime in the second half of 2019, the Treasury Department will lose the ability to borrow if Congress and the President can't agree on how to get around the cap. The current suspension of the debt ceiling, which was quietly agreed to last year, will expire on March 1. But the Treasury will be able to cover its bills at least into mid-summer by moving money around — a series of maneuvers formally designated "extraordinary measures."
Graham said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made the case for raising the debt limit at their dinner. The senator would not discuss what Trump said about the idea.
"His wall money is necessary. His barrier money," Graham said. "We've got to raise the debt ceiling in March. So Mnuchin was there telling us about that. We've got to come up with a budget agreement. If you want to continue to get the military refurbished and rebuild it, then we need to end the last two years of sequestration."
He added, "so there's a package we could put together that would solve several problems. My thought is while we're talking about all these things that are coming due pretty soon, let's think bigger rather than smaller."
When asked if the President wants to include the debt ceiling as part of a broader agreement, Graham said, "I don't speak for him. I'm just saying, we talked about a package and I think the President basically believes that his priority of barrier funding can be achieved solving other problems also."