All Republican lawmakers have to do is, well, nothing.
That way would go something like this: Democrats would introduce a bill to raise the debt ceiling. No Senate Republicans would filibuster the bill, thereby allowing a simple majority vote on the legislation. All 50 Senate Democrats would then vote yes, and with a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris, send the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.
Under this scenario, every Republican would get to vote no and register their opposition to an increase in the debt ceiling. They could even go on to hammer Democrats over the vote ahead of next year’s midterm elections. But the economy wouldn’t crash, and the government would continue paying its bills on time.
There’s only one problem: Republicans refuse to allow Democrats to do it the easy way. They prefer making the act of raising the debt ceiling as painful as possible in protest of Democrats’ social spending and climate proposal, the Build Back Better Act. Republicans are fiercely opposed to the legislation ― which includes money for child care, education, affordable housing and more.
If Democrats want to pass that social spending bill on their own, Republicans argue, they should amend it to include a debt ceiling increase, even though Congress racked up debt in recent years in a bipartisan manner.
“Democrats will not get bipartisan help borrowing money so they can immediately blow historic sums on a partisan taxing and spending spree,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday moments after objecting to a request from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to allow Democrats to raise the debt ceiling without any GOP votes.
“This Democratic government has spent months boasting about the radical transformation they’re ramming through. They have no standing to ask 50 Republican senators to make their process more convenient,” McConnell added.
Schumer, meanwhile, called the idea of raising the debt limit via reconciliation ― which wouldn’t be subject to a filibuster and could pass with just Democratic votes ― a “nonstarter” because it would take too long to do so.
It’s unclear exactly how long amending the Democrats’ budget resolution to include a debt limit hike would take: Democratic lawmakers say it might take at least a few weeks due to procedural rules in the Senate and likely GOP objections that could slow down the process even further.
“We are just asking Republicans: Get out of the way. Get out of the way when you are risking the full faith and credit of the United States, to play a nasty political game,” Schumer said Tuesday before making his request on the floor.
Raising the debt ceiling lets the Treasury Department borrow money to pay bills that Congress has already incurred with past legislation. The U.S. must pay its bills come Oct. 18 or else potentially cause an economic crisis that could rattle markets and cut government services, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned on Tuesday.
Senate Republicans filibustered a House-passed bill on Monday that would have averted an unprecedented default on U.S. debt holdings as well as a government shutdown, which is set to occur Sept. 30 if Congress doesn’t act. The vote on the measure fell along party lines, getting well short of the 60 “ayes” needed to advance it.
Congress is expected to vote on legislation this week that would fund the government for several months ― but the issue of the more explosive issue of raising the debt limit has yet to be resolved. Republicans say they are adamant about not supplying votes to lift the debt ceiling, no matter what. Attempts by Democrats to shame the GOP into doing so have failed so far. Democrats also don’t want to lift the debt ceiling on their own via reconciliation.
Moreover, there’s a risk that, even if they do ultimately cave to Republicans and address it via reconciliation, Democrats won’t be able to pass the Build Back Better Act with a debt limit increase attached in time before the Oct. 18 deadline. The party has struggled to unite around the bill and its provisions.
“I don’t know we’re going to have an agreement on reconciliation by the time the economy blows up and we have to pay our bills. So there’s only one way forward here and it’s Republicans doing the right thing,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said Tuesday.
The partisan fight is fueling discussions among Democrats about ways of making debt ceiling standoffs obsolete in the future.
“The debt limit serves no purpose in 2021 other than to give the Republicans a chance to make political trouble. The time to be serious about finances is when Congress votes on revenues and spending. Period,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told HuffPost.