McConnell: Debt debate 'starts today'

Wednesday, January 2, 2013 - 11:04pm

(CNN) -- Hours after Congress sent a bill for the president's signature to avoid the fiscal cliff, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is already gearing up for the next showdown.

The Kentucky Republican wrote in an op-ed that President Barack Obama should be prepared to "have a fight" over government spending and the debt limit in the coming weeks, adding that the tax debate is now a thing of the past with the new legislation.

"I have news for him: The moment that he and virtually every elected Democrat in Washington signed off on the terms of the current arrangement, it was the last word on taxes. That debate is over," McConnell wrote in the Yahoo News op-ed. "Now the conversation turns to cutting spending on the government programs that are the real source of the nation's fiscal imbalance. And the upcoming debate on the debt limit is the perfect time to have that discussion."

By late February or early March, Congress will have to vote on raising the debt ceiling, the amount the government can legally borrow. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has already said federal borrowing has reached the current $16.394 trillion debt ceiling. Also in March, Congress will have to deal with the delayed sequester--automatic spending cuts--and vote on a continuing budget resolution.

The upcoming "mini-cliffs," as some have called it, are almost sure to have partisanship similar to that seen in the fiscal cliff debacle.

Republicans say they oppose raising the debt limit, preferring instead to cut spending. In the 2011 debt limit fiasco, Democrats argued it was necessary to raise the ceiling and prevent the government from defaulting on its loans. Many are repeating the same argument.

Obama said in his statement late Tuesday night at the White House that he wants "less drama" and "brinksmanship" in future negotiations over fiscal matters.

"I will not have another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they've already racked up through the laws that they passed," he said.

House Republicans expressed frustration late Tuesday night over the fiscal cliff deal's lack of spending cuts, with many vowing to pursue aggressive cuts in the debt ceiling debate.

McConnell wrote that the president should get ready for the battle.

"The President may not want to have a fight about government spending over the next few months, but it's the fight he is going to have, because it's a debate the country needs," he said, adding that Obama "must show up" and deliver a serious plan for slashing federal spending.

"That's the debate the American people really want. It's a debate Republicans are ready to have. And it's the debate that starts today, whether the President wants it or not," McConnell wrote.

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CNN Senior Producer Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.

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