WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell warned on Friday that GOP senators will not vote to increase the government's borrowing limit unless President Barack Obama agrees to rein in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, laying down a high-stakes marker just weeks before the debt ceiling is reached.
In an interview with The Associated Press, McConnell complained that Obama has refused his offers — both public and private — to work on a bipartisan plan to tackle the nation's massive benefit programs, which threaten to overwhelm the budget in coming years.
"There will be no entitlement reform without President Obama," McConnell said. "It cannot be done without him, will not be done without him."
Obama did not address the long-term financial problems of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in the 2012 budget proposal he released in February, saying it will take time to create the political environment necessary for Democrats and Republicans to negotiate in good faith on such difficult long-term issues.
But at a news conference Friday, Obama said he and Congress should address the nation's long-term fiscal condition and programs such as Medicaid and Medicare — after lawmakers complete a deal on spending for the current fiscal year.
Obama said any long-term agreement would have to be bipartisan and also would require tackling defense spending and taxes.
Many Republicans and some Democrats in Congress say now is the time to act. On Friday, McConnell gave the issue a new sense of urgency.
The Treasury Department estimates the government will hit the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling sometime between April 15 and May 31. The Obama administration has warned Congress that failing to raise the debt limit would lead to an unprecedented default on the national debt.
A failure by the government to meet its debt obligations would drive up the government's borrowing costs and also raise borrowing costs for private U.S. companies and consumers.
Democrats cannot increase the debt ceiling without Republican support in both the Senate and House.
"Republicans in the Senate will not be voting to raise the debt ceiling unless we do something significant about the debt," McConnell said. "I don't think he has to lay out in public exactly what he's willing to do, but we need to begin serious discussions, and time's a wasting."