I keep coming back to the fact that there’s no apparent strategic logic behind the GOP blocking a debt-ceiling hike. They’re not holding out in hopes that Democrats will make some concession in exchange for their votes. Republicans aren’t demanding anything, McConnell has said repeatedly.
They’re not pretending that it’d be no big deal if the U.S. defaulted on its debt either. It’d be cataclysmic, McConnell acknowledges. The debt ceiling simply must be raised, he says.
They’re not refusing to raise the ceiling because doing so would block Democrats from passing their reconciliation mega-bill. The debt ceiling applies to spending that’s already been incurred, including some incurred under Trump, not spending yet to come. And the Senate parliamentarian has ruled that Dems can still use reconciliation for infrastructure even if they end up using it for the debt ceiling too.
They’re not protesting the fact that Democrats are governing exclusively by simple majority either. If that were true, the bipartisan infrastructure bill that got 19 Republican votes, including Mitch McConnell’s, wouldn’t have happened.
As far as I can tell, McConnell is insisting that Democrats use reconciliation to raise the debt limit simply to mess with them. To own the libs. At best, he’ll eat up a bit of their legislative calendar time and drag the Dems’ infrastructure squabbling out a few weeks longer. But meanwhile there’s a small but nonzero chance that this game of chicken ends in a miscalculation that tanks the global economy. Andrew Egger has a point:
I personally don't understand how "technically there are ways the Democrats could manage to raise the debt ceiling without us helping!" is supposed to absolve GOP senators of voting against raising the debt ceiling every chance they get.
— Andrew Egger (@EggerDC) October 5, 2021
McConnell was asked today at his weekly presser why Republicans don’t just let Democrats pass the bill on a party-line vote when Schumer puts a debt-ceiling hike on the floor tomorrow. He acted as though he didn’t understand the question. Watch:
In order to suspend the rules for tomorrow’s vote, thereby eliminating the cloture requirement, the Senate would need to unanimously consent. That won’t happen, as McConnell notes. But he wasn’t being asked about suspending the rules. He was asked about letting Republicans provide 10 votes for cloture in order to defeat a filibuster. Then, on the final vote on the bill to raise the debt ceiling, Democrats could pass it with 50 votes plus Kamala Harris. Why won’t he do that?
Because that’s not the easiest way to raise the debt ceiling, he claims. Reconciliation is. But that’s wildly untrue: Reconciliation would take a week or more and would require a lugubrious parliamentary process. It’s not clear if it could even be completed before Janet Yellen’s October 18 deadline to raise the ceiling. Supplying 10 Republican votes for cloture tomorrow would mean that a debt-ceiling hike could pass the Senate as soon as tomorrow night, lickety split. McConnell’s engaged in pure gaslighting by pretending otherwise.
According to Roy Blunt, a member of the GOP leadership, there’d be anywhere from 40 to 45 Senate Republican votes for cloture — if senators were allowed to vote by secret ballot. Some members of his caucus are starting to worry…
MURKOWSKI says she is looking for a compromise solution on debt limit. Wants to make sure US doesn’t “even come close “ to a default
— Erik Wasson (@elwasson) October 5, 2021
…but most, including well-known centrists, are standing firm:
ROMNEY makes clear he will filibuster the debt ceiling increase on vote tomorrow. “We’re not voting in any way to help raise the debt ceiling. As a group we are all together “
— Erik Wasson (@elwasson) October 5, 2021
What alternatives do Democrats have to reconciliation? One, as I wrote this morning, is to tweak the filibuster rules so that a simple majority can raise the debt ceiling. Schumer has the votes to do that in theory if it’s necessary, but Joe Manchin is squeamish right now:
Manchin told me: “Forget the filibuster … We can prevent default, we really can prevent it. And there’s a way to do that, and there’s a couple other tools we have … Takes a little bit of time, it’s gonna be a little bit of pain, long vote-a-ramas,” referring to reconcilation https://t.co/STSXPuwW5p
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) October 5, 2021
Another option is to, ahem, “mint the coin.” That idea has been circulating for 10 years in lefty circles, ever since the first debt-ceiling standoff between Obama and the tea-party GOP. It’s a last-gasp option to prevent default if Congress simply can’t get its act together. The plan, I kid you not, would be for the U.S. Treasury to mint an actual platinum coin with a face value of, say, $1 trillion and to deposit the coin at the Federal Reserve. Then it could suspend all borrowing and begin paying America’s obligations with the funds generated by the coin until Congress acts, thereby preventing the country from actually hitting the debt ceiling. It’s a goofy idea but it’s arguably legal — and some experts are considering it as a nuclear option to prevent a default:
Producing a trillion-dollar Eagle would require only the denomination to be changed. “This could be quickly executed on the existing plaster mold of the Platinum Eagle,” says Diehl. Then an automated process would transfer the new design to a plastic resin mold.
Even if Janet Yellen, the Treasury secretary, has no intention of minting such a coin, there is no reason for her not to quietly instruct the Mint director to take those steps a day or two in advance.
At that point, a coin could be struck in minutes at the West Point mint. Even if it then needed to be physically deposited at the New York Fed, that’s only a short helicopter ride away.
It’s nice to be able to print as much of the world’s reserve currency as you like. But Jen Psaki has already said the administration won’t do it.
If Republicans won’t vote for cloture and Manchinema won’t vote to amend the filibuster and Treasury won’t mint the coin, the only option is for Schumer to get cracking on reconciliation immediately. But that comes with risk, and not just the risk that the U.S. will hit the debt ceiling before reconciliation is done. If Dems are hiking the ceiling on a party-line vote, they can hike it to whatever number they want. One lefty suggests raising it to a quadrillion dollars so that the country never has to endure this reckless brinksmanship again. (Given the left’s ambitions, I’m not sure a quadrillion-dollar ceiling is safely out of reach.) Democrats are reluctant to do something like that knowing how Republicans will lash them for it next fall, but they’re going to get lashed for exorbitant spending no matter what, right? They’ve already spent $1.9 trillion on COVID relief, another trillion-plus on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and Manchin’s reportedly coming around on a $2 trillion reconciliation bill. They’re going to eat it in attack ads for their insanely lavish expansions of government. So why not seize this opportunity to rid America of its debt-ceiling problem once and for all?
Update: Hmmmm. Is Manchin coming around on a filibuster tweak?
Senate Dems are considering a carve out to the filibuster to address the debt limit, multiple sources tell NBC News.
“I think there is this consciousness that we are close to a precipice and things need to change,” one Democratic source told NBC News
— Leigh Ann Caldwell (@LACaldwellDC) October 5, 2021