Lindsey Graham hits McConnell: This debt-ceiling deal is a "complete capitulation"

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Rough day for Mitch when even Grahamnesty is calling him a RINO.

How can it be a “complete capitulation” if we’re now set up to have precisely the same confrontation in December? Except it’ll be even harder going forward for Schumer to claim that he doesn’t have time to raise the debt ceiling via reconciliation. McConnell just handed him two extra months for a process that should take two weeks at most. The next round of brinksmanship will be easier to pin on Democrats than this one was.

And remember what the point of this standoff was for the GOP. By making Dems use reconciliation to raise the ceiling long-term, they’re forcing them to specify a number to which it should be raised. That’ll be on the order of $31 trillion. That’s the number that McConnell wants to hang around the left’s necks in attack ads ahead of the midterms, never mind how many of those trillions of dollars of debt were incurred when Trump was president.

Those attack ads will still happen. Democrats will still have to pick a number. It’s just that they’ll now have until December to pick it instead of until next week. So what’s Graham whining about?

Is taking this position just another way he’s trying to ingratiate himself to Trump by reflecting the former president’s own position?

In fairness to him, he makes a decent point about the GOP potentially being held captive by Manchin and Sinema on the filibuster. McConnell was reportedly nervous that if he refused to blink by letting Dems raise the ceiling through regular order and if Schumer refused to blink by using reconciliation, the only option to avert a default would have been Manchinema agreeing to make an exception to the filibuster for debt-ceiling bills. McConnell doesn’t want anyone fiddling with the 60-vote rule so he took the pressure off the two moderate Dems by offering Schumer a short-term deal. To which Graham says, understandably: Are we going to let fear of filibuster reform dictate our position on everything now?

A GOP Senate source familiar with the matter told FOX Business that there’s some displeasure among Republicans over how the deal was rolled out, with members worried that it’s not the best option or the best way to avert a debt crisis. There’s also a concern about the narrative Democrats are pushing that McConnell caved by offering a last-minute olive branch.

“This is a complete capitulation,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Fox News’ Jason Donner on Thursday. “The argument made yesterday was, well, this may be more pressure than two Democratic senators can stand regarding changing the filibuster rules. That, to me, is not a very good reason.”…

“I think this is just a mistake,” Graham said. “I don’t understand why here at the very end we did this fold, because what you’re gonna do is you’re going to embolden his folks. And I’m not going to live under the threat of the filibuster being changed every time we have a fight. I didn’t do that when we were in charge. If they want to change the filibuster, change it.”

I wrote a few hours ago that it’s strange how Manchin and Sinema *don’t* seem emboldened by their leverage over the filibuster. It would have been child’s play for them to strategically wonder aloud whether it was time to tweak the rules if Republicans refused to help raise the debt ceiling, but they didn’t do that. On the contrary, Manchin affirmed yesterday before the short-term deal was struck that his position in support of the filibuster was firm.

In fact, if it’s true that McConnell only did a deal because he was worried about Manchin bending on the filibuster then it turns out the deal was unnecessary. Manchin told reporters this afternoon that he was never going to amend the filibuster, silly:

Maybe he’s lying, just reassuring his mostly Republican constituents in West Virginia after the fact that he would never mess with the filibuster when in reality he was privately considering it. But I don’t know. He’s stood strong about not changing the rules despite tremendous pressure from the left for months.

If there’s anyone on Earth who’d prefer a catastrophic default by the U.S. Treasury to a limited filibuster carve out, it might be Manchin.

Technically Schumer wouldn’t need Manchin’s vote to change the filibuster. A Republican could vote yes. But it’s unimaginable that a righty would cast the 50th vote to disempower their own minority, even in a scenario where changing the filibuster at the last second was the only way to avoid default. Lisa Murkowski certainly wouldn’t do it since she’s facing a tough primary in Alaska next year. Realistically the only other option is Susan Collins, but Collins is driving a hard bargain on what it would take to gain GOP cooperation in raising the debt ceiling long-term:

On Monday, she suggested that “some Republicans would vote to raise the debt limit if they knew the Democrats were going to abandon the $3.5 trillion package, which appears unlikely but that’s an agreement that could be reached.”

The Maine Republican echoed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and urged Democrats to raise it unilaterally through reconciliation.

Does she mean abandon the infrastructure reconciliation bill entirely or scale it down so that it comports with Republican priorities? Either way, that’s a total nonstarter for Dems. Especially since, as reluctant as they are to use reconciliation to raise the ceiling themselves, it’s within their power to do so without giving the GOP any crumbs policy-wise.

As I’m writing this, news is breaking that the short-term deal has hit a snag:

The expectation for the Senate vote was that the two sides would agree via unanimous consent to suspend the cloture rules, whereupon Democrats would provide the 50 votes needed to raise the ceiling until December. But Cruz and Paul aren’t willing to grant that consent, which means the 60-vote rule to end debate and proceed to a vote on the final bill will remain in effect. Which 10 Republicans will vote for cloture? And why do Cruz and Paul want to force their own caucus to take a tough vote here when that could be avoided?