Even Murkowski won’t cross aisle to help Democrats raise debt ceiling

Sen. Lisa Murkowski at a Senate press conference last year. (Senate photo)

While a deal Wednesday seems to have averted a national debt default for now, Senate Republicans are united in sticking Democrats with responsibility of doing what needs to be done.

Even U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, no stranger to defying her party, isn’t crossing the aisle to raise the debt ceiling this time, though she agrees a default would be catastrophic.

“Republicans or Democrats, I don’t care where you are: Nobody wants to see this nation default on its debt,” she said Wednesday afternoon at the Capitol. “That’s the height of irresponsibility.”

A failure to raise the debt limit would mean the government would run out of money to pay military and civilian salaries, pensions and other spending Congress has already agreed to, including its debt payments. It’s akin to a family ignoring its credit card bill. It would quickly plunge to country into economic disaster.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell offered to let the Democrats increase the debt limit until sometime in December.

But Democrats don’t want to be saddled with the political liability for raising the debt ceiling to cover budget gaps both parties agreed to incur. Murkowski says it’s on their shoulders.

“I would like to be able to figure out a way that the Democrats could move forward, deal with this on their own, as they’ve indicated they’re prepared to do,” she said.

Why does it have to be Democrats “on their own”? 

“It’s a fair question,” Murkowski said. “It doesn’t have to be.” 

She paused for several seconds. Then one of her aides said she needed to have a private conversation with the senator. 

During the Trump administration, both Alaska senators voted with bipartisan majorities to raise the debt ceiling. (U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan was not present for one debt ceiling vote in 2017.)

But in 2006, when George W. Bush was president and Democrats were in the Senate minority, they forced the majority party to shoulder the political burden alone, as Republicans are attempting to do now.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.