Government shutdown "Plan B" looks to be ugly

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

As we’ve known for a while now, the federal government is going to run out of money in the next few days and we could be looking at yet another government shutdown unless a temporary spending bill is passed. We’ve also learned that the GOP leadership in both chambers has no interest in approving a lifting of the debt ceiling and wants to force the Democrats to do it by themselves. There is a spending bill ready to be introduced and voted on in the Senate tonight after narrowly passing in the House on a party-line vote. But an analysis at Axios from this weekend concludes that this is all nothing but theatrics and the bill is doomed to fail. That means that Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer will need to fall back on “Plan B.” They have such a plan ready to go, but nobody is going to like it.

The Senate will hold a futile vote Monday night — just 72 hours before a potential shutdown — on a House-passed bill to fund the government through Dec. 3 and raise the debt limit.

Why it matters: The bill is going to fail. Period. But then comes Plan B: A “clean” continuing resolution — stripped of language about raising the debt limit — that Democrats spent the past week preparing, Axios is told.

What’s next: Monday’s vote is purely symbolic at this point, given Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Republicans have declared for weeks they won’t support raising the debt ceiling.

So “Plan B” has two parts. The first is a “clean” temporary spending bill without any mention of raising the debt ceiling. Part two involves the ugly proposition of jamming the debt ceiling increase into the “reconciliation” bill that’s currently stalled in the Senate and forcing it through with no GOP support.

This plan is hardly foolproof. First, how sure are we that there will even be ten Republican votes in the Senate for the “clean bill?” Thus far, Midnight Mitch has only said that he wouldn’t support an increase in the debt ceiling, not that he would oppose a spending bill without such a provision. But if the Democrats try to slip any more poison pills into the clean bill, that one might fail as well. If that happens, the lights go out on Thursday or Friday at the latest.

Part two is even more of a question mark. That reconciliation bill is already in hot water in the Senate, with no sign of any GOP support and at least a couple of Democrats indicating that they can’t vote for it in its current form. Does anyone actually believe that adding a debt ceiling increase to it will produce more Republican support than the zero votes it currently appears to have? Color me dubious.

Even if the “clean” spending bill covering us through December 3 manages to be passed, that doesn’t get us all the way through to that date. Starting on Thursday, the Fed will be able to play some of the usual tricks, shuffling money around and immediately allocating any new receipts that come in, keeping the lights on for a while. But current projections indicate that we will still hit the current debt ceiling in roughly three weeks, at some point in the middle of October. After that, the lights go out anyway.

The one possibility that neither Nancy Pelosi nor Chuck Schumer wants to see (and perhaps the one that McConnell is banking on) is that they could win back the support of Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema for the reconciliation bill by trimming it down significantly, probably to something in the range of $1.5 trillion and still sneak in the debt ceiling increase. Neither of the recalcitrant Democrats are going to object to raising the ceiling. But that would mean gutting a huge portion of Joe Biden’s spending priorities in the process. The GOP would tout that as a massive victory and a cave by the Democrats, but that’s precisely why the Democrats’ Progressive Caucus would probably refuse to support it.

So where does that leave us? Personally, I think the odds of a shutdown happening either this week or in the next three weeks are looking better than ever. And both the Democrats and their friends in the mainstream media will do their level best to place all of the blame on the Republicans. History shows us that they will probably be at least partially successful in that effort, just as we’re getting ready to enter the heat of the midterm cycle. None of this looks good at the moment.