Kamala Harris photo

Remarks by the Vice President During a Biden-Harris Administration Briefing on Preventing Default

May 18, 2023

Via Teleconference

12:49 P.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Mayor Steve Benjamin, for your leadership and all that you do on behalf of our administration.

Hello, everyone. I want to thank you all for joining us today. You -- you can hear I have a bit of a frog in my throat. Please forgive me. I've been talking about this issue a lot recently. (Laughs.)

On this call, we have community leaders, labor leaders, state and local elected officials representing all 50 states and the territories. And you all are on this call, so -- obviously because you are leaders. You are leaders in your communities, and you stay informed about what is happening. And for that reason, people turn to you when they need to understand and make sense of it all.

So, today we have come together to address a subject that impacts the life of every American -- the debt ceiling -- to make sure America does not default on its debt.

As you all know, Republicans in Congress have threatened to cause the United States to default on paying its debt. And default would be unprecedented. It has never happened before.

It would mean, if it happens, that it would be the first time in history that the United States government would not pay its bills.

Now, congle- -- congressional Republicans claim they are threatening default because they want to lower our nation's debt.

Okay, so let's be clear: For Republicans in Congress, this issue is not really about lowering our nation's debt, because if they really cared about lowering our debt, they would not -- they would not also fight to protect trillions of dollars in Trump tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and the biggest corporations, tax cuts that would add three and a half trillion dollars --

(The Vice President's phone line is disconnected.)

(Briefing participants resume the call.)

(The Vice President's phone line is reconnected.)

MAYOR BENJAMIN: Madam Vice President, are you back on with us?

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Yes, I'm here. I am here.


THE VICE PRESIDENT: And tha- -- thank you, Mayor.

So, to complete my point, I will say, where we left off, was to talk about the real stakes and issues that are at play.

A default could trigger a recession, stop mil- -- military paychecks, and raise interest rates for years to come, and turn mortgage rates into a situation where they would actually go up, credit card payments would go up, and small business loans would be more expensive.

It would also reduce the amount of money in your retirement accounts. So, for an average American close to retirement, their 401- -- 401(k) could lose over 20,000 hard-earned dollars.

And a default would also put at risk programs that millions of Americans rely on, including Social Security and Medicare.

So, I think everyone here understands that the reason we have convened you as leaders is because this is really a critical issue; it is not some abstract policy debate. And you only need look back to 2011 to remember what it can mean right now.

Back in 2011, we saw that even coming close to a default -- even coming close -- can hurt our nation's economy and families. By coming close to a default back then, prices in the stock market fell almost 20 percent for more than a year. Millions of people lost money out of their retirement accounts. It became more difficult for both small and large businesses to secure loans, fill orders, and hire new workers because the financial system was no longer confident that our nation could pay its bills.

By some estimates, there would be 1 million more jobs today in our nation had that not happened.

But be clear: All of that did happen. And that was without an actual default. It happened just because we came close.

So, all of this is obviously unacceptable, I'm sure to all of you and certainly to me and to President Biden. And we believe it is absolutely unnecessary. This does not have to be a crisis.

Our position is clear and simple: Congress must act to prevent default. That is what Congress has done more than 70 ti- -- I said 70 -- 7-0 -- times since 1960. And that is what it did three times under the previous administration.

America must pay our bills, just like you and your family and other hardworking Americans do every single day, and Congress must not create this crisis, which is why President Biden and I met with our four congressional leaders Tuesday here at the White House.

We had a productive conversation. We believe that it occurred in good faith, with all the leaders in that meeting agreeing that America will not default.

During that meeting, the President and the Speaker of the House designated senior members of our teams who will continue to negotiate. They met yesterday, and they will continue to meet.

And right now, we just need you, the leaders on this call, to do what you always do and make sure your voices are heard. Make sure members of Congress know a default would not be acceptable under any circumstances. Talk with your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues, and make sure they understand the real consequences a default would have on their lives -- immediate consequences -- and do what you all on this call, in particular, do best.

Let's organize, activate our communities, and remind folks of what's at stake and get the word out about why this issue is so important and why Congress must act.

And I'll close with this. In the United States of America, we pay our bills. People have to pay their bills, and our government has to pay its bills. Our nation has never defaulted on its debt, and it never will with the support and the leadership of all of you on this call.

I thank you. I'm turning it back over to you, Mayor Benjamin. And I thank you for your leadership as well.

Thank you all.

END 1:02 P.M. EDT

Kamala Harris, Remarks by the Vice President During a Biden-Harris Administration Briefing on Preventing Default Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/361824

Simple Search of Our Archives