After months of refusing to help Democrats increase the debt ceiling, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) offered a short-term solution this week: Republicans would support increasing the debt limit enough for the government to continue paying its bills into December.
This would avert a potentially catastrophic debt default, which has never happened in U.S. history and which Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned could create another financial crisis. But it’s not clear McConnell yet has the votes within his own party to execute this desperately needed deal.
“It’ll be a painful birthing process,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters Thursday about working to get Republican senators on board.
At least 10 Republicans would have to vote alongside Democrats in order to pass the measure.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) seemed optimistic that his party would eventually agree to their leader’s deal. But it seems many of them want to air their grievances first.
“There seems to be desire of people wanting to express themselves,” Cornyn said. “Nobody wants to default.”
He noted that there’s also a competing desire among senators to leave town for their brief October recess.
If it does pass, the temporary increase to the debt limit would last the Treasury until Dec. 3, when government funding is also scheduled to run out.
After that, McConnell says Democrats would have to figure out a longer-term solution on their own.
“The pathway our Democratic colleagues have accepted will spare the American people any near-term crisis while definitely resolving the majority’s excuse that they lacked time to address the debt limit,“ McConnell said Thursday on the Senate floor.
Democrats accepted the short-term proposal very quickly Wednesday, calling it a concession from McConnell. But they made clear that they would once again need Republican support in December, setting up yet another standoff between the two parties.
Republicans and Democrats have wanted to increase the debt limit for months, but Republicans have not only refused to vote for any measure doing so, but have also filibustered every effort Democrats have made to do it on their own.
Republicans say they don’t want to sign on to any measure that would give Democrats room to spend more.
The debt limit has to be raised regardless of any future policies Democrats hope to pass.
Despite McConnell’s offer, several Republican senators say they’re still uninterested in voting for even a short-term debt increase.
“I think it’s regrettable that a Republican has to vote on this at all,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told reporters, though noted that he wouldn’t stop the bill from being expedited through the Senate if it had the votes.
McConnell has specifically demanded Democrats raise the debt ceiling through the reconciliation process, a budgetary maneuver that allows Democrats to pass legislation with a simple majority. That process is lengthy and procedurally complicated and gives Republicans many more opportunities to further delay and score political points.
Democrats have been adamant they will not use the reconciliation process for the debt limit. They are currently trying to use reconciliation to pass President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda — a sweeping proposal that would invest trillions in the national social safety net and climate infrastructure.
Democratic senators have been adamant that they do not want to use reconciliation to increase the debt limit. In the hours before McConnell’s offer, a growing number of Democratic senators, and even Biden, began floating the idea of creating a “carveout” in the filibuster — the Senate rule that puts a 60-vote threshold on most pieces of legislation — specifically for the debt limit.
Without this temporary increase in the debt limit, the Treasury Department said it would no longer be able to borrow money to pay off U.S. debt holdings as of Oct. 18, causing the United States to default.
If that were to happen, Yellen said she fully expects the fragile economy would sink into a recession, and the government would fall behind on Social Security and veterans benefit payments.