McConnell floats short-term debt increase, swift reconciliation

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McConnell floats short-term debt increase, swift reconciliation

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday appeared to call the bluff of Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and President Biden over their claims that Democrats cannot pass a debt ceiling hike on their own, offering to allow the majority party to pursue an expedited reconciliation vote to raise the borrowing limit or a short-term increase with a set dollar amount on a straight vote.

“Republicans remain the only party with a plan to prevent default. We have already made it clear we would assist in expediting the 304 reconciliation process for stand-alone debt limit legislation. To protect the American people from a near-term Democrat-created crisis, we will also allow Democrats to use normal procedures to pass an emergency debt limit extension at a fixed dollar amount to cover current spending levels into December,” McConnell said in a statement on Wednesday.

“This will moot Democrats’ excuses about the time crunch they created and give the unified Democratic government more than enough time to pass stand-alone debt limit legislation through reconciliation. Alternatively, if Democrats abandon their efforts to ram through another historically reckless taxing and spending spree that will hurt families and help China, a more traditional bipartisan governing conversation could be possible.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY)
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has called for the debt limit to be increased on a bipartisan basis.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

It’s unclear whether Democrats will accept either of the Kentucky Republican’s proposals, which came as Democrats were floating the idea of using a carve-out to the Senate filibuster to vote on this measure, something key swing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) indicated he was not prepared to go along with.

“I’ve been very, very clear where I stand on the filibuster. Nothing changes,” he said Wednesday.

McConnell has repeatedly called for Democrats to use the reconciliation process, allowing them to bypass the 60-vote threshold in the upper chamber, and address the debt ceiling on their own, arguing that GOP lawmakers won’t support green-lighting a path for a sweeping social spending bill to address some of the Biden administration’s top priorities that they feel would further exacerbate inflation. 

Democrats have blasted the push, arguing that the increase is needed to pay for spending made under the previous administration, and vaguely stating that such a move would open up other issues to separate votes, although just what that might be remains unclear.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen listens as U.S. President Joe Biden holds a meeting with business leaders and CEOs about the debt limit at the White House in Washington, U.S., October 6, 2021.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen listens as President Biden holds a meeting with business leaders and CEOs about the debt limit at the White House on Oct. 6, 2021.
Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS

In a speech on raising the debt limit in Michigan Tuesday, Biden said: “It’s an unlimited number of votes having nothing directly to do with the debt limit; it could be everything from Ethiopia to anything else that has nothing to do with the debt limit. And it’s fraught with all kinds of potential danger for a miscalculation.”

McConnell’s comments come shortly before Senate Republicans are expected to block a bill aimed at increasing the debt ceiling through Dec. 16, 2022.

Schumer (D-NY) has repeatedly called for the debt limit to be increased on a bipartisan basis, arguing that a party-line increase sets a bad precedent, highlighting that Democrats supported multiple increases during the Trump administration. Critics, however, note that he may just not want the stain of adding to the nation’s debt on the hands of Democrats alone heading into a tough 2022 midterm election cycle for Congress.

“Republican obstruction on the debt ceiling over the last few weeks has been reckless. It’s been irresponsible. But nonetheless, today Republicans will have an opportunity to get exactly what they kept asking for,” he said on the floor Wednesday. “The easiest option is this: Republicans can simply get out of the way and we can agree to skip the filibuster vote so we can proceed to final passage of this bill.”

Democrats have weighed potentially creating a carve-out for raising the debt ceiling to bypass the filibuster, but moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) expressed reservations about the matter earlier in the day.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that the country could exhaust its reserves by Oct. 18, providing lawmakers with a narrow window to address the matter before the federal government defaults on its financial obligations.

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