Senate Dems: Okay, we'll take McConnell's deal on raising the debt ceiling short-term, but...

Senate Dems: Okay, we'll take McConnell's deal on raising the debt ceiling short-term, but...
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

“Dumbest non-solution imaginable for the dumbest non-crisis imaginable,” tweeted Liam Donovan upon hearing the news. With understatement.

McConnell offered to either punt this debate into December or to fast-track the reconciliation process in case Schumer wants to raise the debt ceiling long-term right now.

Senate Dems huddled this afternoon and agreed to punt, assuring reporters afterward that this was absolutely not a cave on their part. They’re not going to raise the debt ceiling via reconciliation in December either, they insist. Just because McConnell’s bought them a lot more time to do so hasn’t changed their position.

December will be a busy month:

Ed explained earlier that the point of forcing Democrats to raise the ceiling via reconciliation is to make them put a hard number on how high it should go instead of simply suspending it for awhile. That means Biden won’t have a blank check, he argued. Which is true, but I’m hoping and expecting that the blank-check days will be over anyway after infrastructure is done as Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema decide that we’ve spent enough for awhile. I’m skeptical too that forcing Dems to take ownership of whatever the gazillion-dollar amount of the new ceiling is will hurt them much. We’re way past the tea-party era; Republican voters don’t care about limiting spending on the merits, only as a half-hearted cudgel against Democrats.

If there’s a number that’ll be hung around the Dems’ necks in the midterms, it’ll be the price tag of the infrastructure bill they end up passing on a party-line vote. Both parties have contributed amply to the national debt but only Dems are still looking to spend in mega-amounts after the orgy of COVID relief spending over the past 18 months.

Anyway, per Donovan, we’re now back to square one. Republicans will insist that Dems use reconciliation in December to put a number on the debt ceiling, Dems will adamantly refuse, Joe Manchin will scold both sides and say something disapproving but noncommittal about amending the filibuster, and we’ll be back to square one. Except next time, according to Fox reporter Jacqui Heinrich, Republicans won’t be willing to fast-track reconciliation. Now that Schumer has several months to get his act together, the GOP will insist on standard time-consuming reconciliation procedures like vote-a-rama in December.

…Unless, of course, we end up against another impending deadline for default, in which case the two parties will have to huddle and compromise again.

Democrats are claiming that they’ve won this standoff because now they can focus on the infrastructure reconciliation bill:

Did their chatter about possibly amending the filibuster rules to raise the debt ceiling via simple majority spook McConnell? Mitch doesn’t spook easily, but…

A Republican senator, as well as some Senate Republican aides, told Axios a large part of McConnell’s decision was driven by the Democrats’ fresh calls to modify the filibuster — which requires 60-votes to move on major legislation — as they sought to break the debt-limit impasse.

“The paramount concern here is saving the 60-vote rule, saving the filibuster,” the Republican senator said.

“If you compare the debt ceiling, which is raised frequently, to permanently changing the Senate as an institution, it’s not even a close call,” the senator added.

It’s odd that McConnell would offer a deal to protect the filibuster just a few hours after Manchin said he wouldn’t amend the filibuster to raise the debt ceiling. And if McConnell’s worried about Manchin changing his mind, I’m not sure what a short-term debt hike accomplishes. Manchin’s going to face this same dilemma again in December when his party refuses to use reconciliation to raise the ceiling then.

Also, Chris Murphy makes an interesting point here:

Changing the filibuster rules for the debt ceiling would be a risky precedent but insisting on raising the ceiling via reconciliation sets a risky precedent too. I’m not sure if he’s right that the parties get only one crack at reconciliation per fiscal year with respect to the debt ceiling; didn’t the Senate parliamentarian just rule that Dems could raise the ceiling via reconciliation without jeopardizing their infrastructure mega-bill? But he’s certainly right that Democrats will retaliate by forcing Republicans to use reconciliation to raise the ceiling the next time they control government, and that process is too long and cumbersome for an act as important as that. Fights over spending and the debt required to fund it should be had when spending bills are on the floor. Raising the ceiling later to allow Treasury to incur the requisite debt should be quick, perfunctory, and bipartisan. There’s too much at stake to dick around with this subject.

By the way, the White House sounded chilly to the idea of a short-term debt hike this afternoon. But the White House isn’t in any position to make demands at the moment.

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