'I will not yield': Biden vows to fight any GOP attack on Social Security, Medicare

President Joe Biden pledged Friday to defend Social Security and Medicare from Republican attacks but rejected calls to support a full repeal of the debt ceiling, an arbitrary federal borrowing limit that the GOP is threatening to use as leverage to enact spending cuts.

"The Republican leadership in Congress has made it clear they will crash the economy next year by threatening the full faith and credit of the United States for the first time in our history, putting the United States in default, unless, unless, we yield to their demand to cut Social Security and Medicare," Biden said in a speech at the White House.

"Let me be really clear: I will not yield," the president vowed. "I will not cut Social Security. I will not cut Medicare, no matter how hard they work at it."

Biden's remarks came during an address touting new Treasury Department data showing that the federal budget deficit was chopped in half last fiscal year—a finding the president used to hit Republicans for spending hypocrisy.

"The federal deficit went up every single year in the Trump administration, every single year he was president," Biden said. "It went up before the pandemic. It went up during the pandemic. It went up every single year on his watch, the Republican watch."

While Biden pledged to fight GOP attacks on Social Security and Medicare, he told reporters Friday that he would not support scrapping the debt limit, a constraint that Congress imposes on the Treasury Department's ability to borrow to meet its obligations—which include Social Security and Medicare benefits.

The president said repealing the debt limit entirely would be "irresponsible," a position that puts him in conflict with members of his own party and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

Short of removing the debt ceiling, congressional Democrats have the option of raising the borrowing limit unilaterally during the upcoming lame-duck session. Such a move would prevent Republicans from following through on their recent threats to use the debt ceiling as leverage to force Social Security and Medicare cuts if they win control of the House, Senate, or both.

Some Democrats have also proposed giving the executive branch the power to raise the debt ceiling, but it's unclear whether the White House supports that idea.

The federal government is expected to reach the current $31.4 trillion debt limit sometime next year. Semafor reported Thursday that Democrats are wary of raising the debt limit during the lame-duck session, fearing GOP attacks.

Countering Biden's claim that eliminating the debt ceiling would be "irresponsible," University of Michigan economist Justin Wolfers argued Friday that "the debt ceiling has nothing to do with fiscal responsibility."

"It doesn't control how much Congress takes in or how much it spends," Wolfers noted. "Rather, it says: Once we hit this limit, we'll stop paying our bills, including our debts. It's a fiscal time bomb. Keeping it is irresponsible."