The White House and Democrats sought Monday to make Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) feel some political pain for the high-stakes poker game he is playing with Democrats over raising the debt ceiling.
Weeks after McConnell telegraphed his strategy that Republicans will not lift a finger to extend the nation’s borrowing limit, Democrats engaged in a choreographed effort to convince voters that the GOP leader would be responsible for a debt default.
President Biden took a starring role, using the bully pulpit to say the U.S. faced a real possibility of defaulting, and that McConnell would be to blame.
He said McConnell’s actions were “dangerous,” the results of a default would be “dire” and that whether the U.S. made an Oct. 18 deadline set by the Treasury Department was “up to Mitch McConnell.”
McConnell earlier had asked Biden “respectfully” to start pressing Democratic leaders to extend the nation’s borrowing limit, while noting that Biden himself opposed raising the debt limit under former President George W. Bush.
McConnell left out that Democrats did not use the filibuster to block a debt-ceiling hike, as McConnell and the GOP have done.
The GOP and McConnell say they are right not to waive the filibuster for the debt ceiling because Democrats are crafting a $3.5 trillion social spending bill that will be immune from the filibuster because of budget rules. As a result, they say Democrats should have to raise the debt ceiling on their own.
Democrats counter that the debt ceiling needs to be hiked for past spending, much of it the result of the tax-cut law and spending bills signed by former President Trump.
Yet if McConnell and Democrats are playing a high-stakes game of poker on the debt ceiling, many Republicans and a few Democrats see the GOP leader as holding the better cards and unlikely to fold.
Republicans received a confidence boost in their strategy last week after Democrats pulled language to suspend the debt limit out of a short-term government funding bill that also provided $28 billion for disaster relief, side-stepping a potential government shutdown.
While Democrats usually win political fights over government shutdowns, they didn’t have any appetite for sticking to their strategy of pairing the funding stopgap with the debt-limit suspension.
Instead, they passed a clean bill to fund the government until December along with disaster relief and money for Afghan refugee resettlement, which Biden signed into law Thursday.
Republicans saw the fight over Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) effort to pair the government funding package with a debt-limit measure as a victory and a prelude of what’s to come.
After Schumer last week declared the prospect of raising the debt limit with only Democratic votes via the budget reconciliation process a “non-starter,” Republican leaders privately predicted he would soon be forced to change course.
“It’s only Tuesday,” quipped a member of the Senate GOP leadership early last week.
McConnell on Monday argued that any default would fall squarely in the president’s lap since his party controls both chambers of Congress and pointed to Democratic infighting over the $1 trillion Senate-passed infrastructure package, which is stalled in the House, as evidence of dysfunction.
“This unified Democratic government is having trouble governing. They couldn’t even pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill which the president negotiated and the Speaker of the House promised would pass last week,” McConnell said on the floor.
Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, said that Democrats can’t expect bipartisan help in passing a debt-limit suspension after they used the budget reconciliation process to pass the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in March without any GOP votes and plan to now pass a massive human infrastructure spending package also on party-line votes.
“I think the environment is the environment where they’re going to have to do it by themselves and figure it out,” he said.
Even some Democrats tacitly acknowledge they as the party in control cannot allow a default, though they are careful to let Schumer take the lead on messaging.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) encouraged his leadership to put debt-limit language in the budget resolution the Senate passed in August, which would have enabled Senate Democrats to move more quickly with a reconciliation bill to raise the debt limit without any GOP support.
“I thought that would have been the smart thing to do,” he said. “Ultimately, I feel there’s no way that Democrats are going to allow a default.”
“There’s no chance, zero, that Democrats will allow a default,” he added.
A Democratic senator who requested anonymity to speak frankly about Schumer’s tough position said his leadership will likely opt to raise the debt limit through a budget reconciliation bill.
“I don’t know, other than reconciliation, how we do it. I think if it comes to that, we should just do it. No one’s going to remember how it’s done in a month but they will remember if it’s not done,” said the lawmaker.
At the core of the Republican political strategy is the calculation that the president bears ultimate responsibility for the health of the U.S. economy. They are betting that Biden will feel compelled to pressure Democrats in Congress to use the reconciliation process to raise the debt limit to avoid what both sides acknowledge would be catastrophe for the financial markets if the U.S. defaults or comes close to defaulting on its debt.
Democrats, however, are betting that Republicans will get the blame for any default because controversial legislation almost always needs 60 votes to pass the Senate and argue that using the budget reconciliation process to bypass a GOP filibuster is risky because individual senators can drag out the process for days, bringing the Treasury Department harrowingly close to its Oct. 18 deadline.
n is more willing than Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to use the budget reconciliation process to solve the dilemma over the debt limit. He raised it as an option during a phone call with the Democratic leaders early last week.
And White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Monday declined to rule out the possibility of resorting to the budget reconciliation process to raise the debt limit, telling reporters that Biden wants to avert a crisis.
“He wasn’t ruling out options this morning as it relates to legislative paths forward, but what is very clear here is that the cleanest, easiest, fastest way to get this done is by the Republicans allowing Democrats to move forward with a vote. They can do that tomorrow and we can reduce the uncertainty for the American people,” she said.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on Thursday that he had reached an agreement with Republicans to extend the debt ceiling into December.
“We have reached an agreement to extend the debt ceiling through early December,” Schumer said.
Senators could vote on the deal as soon as Thursday.
The agreement, according to a Senate aide, would increase the debt ceiling by $480 billion, which based on Treasury Department estimates would extend the debt ceiling until Dec. 3.
Schumer didn’t provide specifics on the size of the debt hike, something he and Republicans were haggling over on Wednesday night.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) confirmed during a floor speech that they had reached a deal.
“The Senate is moving toward the plan I laid out last night to spare the American people from an unprecedented crisis,” he said.
“The pathway our Democratic colleagues have accepted will spare the American people any near-term crisis,” McConnell added.
Spokespeople for Schumer and McConnell didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
In order to vote on Thursday, every senator would have to agree to speed up the agreement, otherwise it could be dragged out into the weekend.
GOP aides indicated on Thursday that it was still possible that conservatives could require the deal to overcome a 60-vote procedural hurdle.
That would require at least 10 GOP senators to help advance the debt ceiling deal, even if they ultimately voted against it on final passage. Any one senator could require that the bill get 60 votes to advance.
“I do not support the Democrats’ reconciliation package and I do not support raising the debt limit to make that level of spending possible. If Democrats want to raise the debt ceiling they can use the reconciliation process," Graham said in a statement.
McConnell, as part of the offer from Republicans, said that they would help expedite the reconciliation process if Democrats decided to raise the debt ceiling on their own through the budget rules that let them bypass a filibuster. He also said that Republicans would let Democrats pass a short-term debt hike as long as the short-term extension was to a specific number and not a day.
Republicans want Democrats to do a long-term debt hike on their own through reconciliation, a budget process that lets them bypass a filibuster.
McConnell, on Thursday, argued that by supporting a short-term extension that would push the debt ceiling into early December, Republicans were defanging a top Democratic complaint that they didn’t have enough time to raise the debt ceiling on their own through reconciliation.
Congress has until Oct. 18 to raise the debt ceiling and avert a historic default. The Senate agreement would need to be passed by the House before being sent to President Biden.
Is Manchian the last person in congress who has not completely lost his mind?
The decision from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to open the door to a two-month extension, which ultimately passed on Thursday night, came as efforts to create a filibuster exemption for the debt ceiling appeared to be gaining momentum as Democrats struggled to figure out how to bypass GOP opposition and suspend the nation's borrowing limit before a critical Oct. 18 deadline.
Manchin and Sinema have warned for months they would not support nixing the filibuster, but they came under intense scrutiny over the past few days, with Democratic colleagues raising the idea of changing the Senate rules during a closed-door lunch.
McConnell, according to other GOP senators, mentioned both Manchin and Sinema as he outlined his reasoning for offering a short-term extension, which marked a shift in GOP strategy.
“He said, ‘I think I’ve come up with a solution that could work and that I think Joe and Kyrsten will allow,’” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.).
“That’s really important. Because if not they could, you know, carve out this one thing ... to blow up the filibuster over. And I think he wanted to protect them from that and protect the Senate from that eventuality,” Cramer added.
Asked if concerns about the pressure Manchin and Sinema were feeling on the filibuster impacted GOP thinking, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), McConnell’s No. 2, said, “No doubt.”