U.S. Rep. Chip Roy says he’ll use debt ceiling threat to push through his border security plan

The debt ceiling has long been a political tool to force partisan agenda items across. But Roy is facing some resistance within his own party on his border plan.

click to enlarge U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin. Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune - Texas Tribune / Eddie Gaspar
Texas Tribune / Eddie Gaspar
U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin. Credit: Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Chip Roy said he will employ brinkmanship over the federal debt ceiling debate — threatening to allow the U.S. to default on its loans — to push through his border security plan that has been criticized by members of his own party for being too extreme.

“We’re going to have to use the debt ceiling and the spending fight in September to demand that [President Joe] Biden do the right thing,” Roy said Wednesday on Fox News.

The Austin Republican introduced a bill earlier this year that would give the secretary of Homeland Security the power to bar border crossings — even for asylum-seekers — until the U.S. is able to detain all migrants crossing illegally. The bill also allows state attorneys general to sue the secretary if they determine that the administration is not adequately enforcing that policy — which would likely be the case in President Joe Biden’s administration.

The comments come as Congress deliberates a path forward over raising the federal debt limit, a must-pass resolution that has long been used to force through partisan priorities and measures to control future spending. If the federal government fails to raise the debt ceiling as it has done numerous times under control of both parties for decades, it could exhaust its options for paying off its debts, leading to a default that economists agree would be ruinous for the nation and the global economy.

The debts are the result of spending already authorized and appropriated by Congress in the past. The federal government already hit its debt limit last week, but the Treasury Department can still finagle additional spending for the next few months using alternative measures.

Roy is banking on that leverage to advance his border bill, which is a nonstarter for Democrats. The bill has also faced blowback from moderate Republicans, who fear that it is essentially shutting down avenues for asylum-seekers — a protected class of migrants who have a right to seek refuge once on American soil.

“The asylum process is broken and needs major reform, but abolishment is un-American,” U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio, told the Houston Chronicle. It has led to a verbal back-and-forth between the two members who sit on opposite sides of the conservative spectrum, though Roy insists they remain on cordial terms.

Roy rebuffed the critique. He said he wants to protect asylum-seekers but thinks they should not be released into the country to wait out their asylum hearings. Asylum-seekers often wait years for their hearings, during which they remain in legal limbo but are free to stay in the country. Under former President Donald Trump, asylum-seekers were forced to wait out their claims in Mexico, but Biden overturned that policy shortly after taking office.

“We will allow asylum claims, but you gotta be detained,” Roy told Fox News. “That’s what the law requires.”

Roy said on The Joe Pags Show that he hopes to work out his disagreement with Gonzales and that his bill would essentially reach the same end as Title 42, a Trump-era measure continued by the Biden administration that expels migrants — even those seeking asylum — under the guise of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Democrats argue there is not enough space or funding to house the number of migrants seeking asylum in the country and have pushed for more legal pathways to enter the country. But U.S. House Republicans demand there first be a hardened border before any immigration reform can come to the table.

Roy’s bill would also expel any migrants who exceed the country’s detention capacity. Eleven other Texas Republicans signed onto the bill.

The debt ceiling battle likely won’t reach a fever pitch until the early summer, when the federal government exhausts its alternative options for funding itself and financing its interest payments. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and President Biden called on Congress to swiftly bump up the debt ceiling without any strings attached, saying it is too dangerous of a bargaining chip to use to coerce any kind of partisan needs.

Failing to pay the nation’s debts would be an earth-shattering blow to international confidence in U.S. assets, leading to high interest rates and inflation. Both parties agree that defaulting on the debt is not an option. The United States has never defaulted on its debt, even though the threat of doing so has lingered over every Congress for years.

“The United States of America should never, ever, ever default on its debt,” U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said at a news conference on the debt ceiling Wednesday. “[But] we will use the debt ceiling as leverage to force real and meaningful structural reforms to fix the underlying problem.”

Roy is also using the debt ceiling fight to try to reduce federal funding levels in a bid to rein in the nation’s debt. He has urged balancing the budget over the next decade, starting by returning federal funding to 2022-fiscal-year levels next year.

Roy said he could also use the appropriations process in September to try to force through his border security bill. Congress must pass legislation each year to appropriate funds for the government, or else the federal government shuts down entirely.

Roy was apoplectic that U.S. Senate Republicans worked with Democrats to pass a bipartisan funding bill at the end of last year rather than kicking the appropriations process until Republicans took control of the House. Doing so “took away our leverage,” Roy said. He urged fellow House Republicans to join him in opposing any priorities brought up by the Senate Republicans who voted for the spending bill last year, with U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy signing onto the idea.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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