The last time the Senate had to wrangle with the question of funding the operation of the government was in October. That settled the question of keeping the lights on past the November elections, but not all that much further. In fact, the small measure they took at that time is set to run out in a little over two weeks, on December 15th. Not coincidentally, that’s also right around the time that the Senate is supposed to adjourn for the year. But as The Hill points out today, Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell don’t appear to even be close to having any sort of deal in the works. This is a convoluted situation with quite a few players involved and it’s being driven almost entirely by political calculations. The Democrats would love to have a deal that puts the matter to rest until after the midterms, but the Republicans have repeatedly stated that they want the Democrats to raise the debt limit by themselves. There may not be any sort of middle ground available here.
Congress is only a couple of weeks away from hitting the Dec. 15 deadline to raise the federal debt limit and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) don’t appear to be anywhere close to a deal.
Democrats insist that Schumer will not burn up a week of Senate floor time to use the budget reconciliation process to raise the debt limit with only Democratic votes.
And Republicans say there’s no way that McConnell will be able to round up 10 Republican votes to quash an expected filibuster from conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and allow Democrats to pass debt-limit legislation with a simple majority under regular order.
When we went through this exercise in October, McConnell was able to round up ten other Republicans to vote for the short-term measure. All of them – including Midnight Mitch – caught some fierce blowback from their own party afterward, including a strong rebuke from Donald Trump. It’s unlikely that a similar deal could be worked out again now unless the GOP gets some type of serious concession from the Democrats in exchange.
Schumer’s people are insisting that he’s not going to go through the reconciliation process to do this, including a “vote-a-rama” on all of the amendments that would be offered. The process would burn up most of the remaining session and Schumer is eager to finish the NDAA and try to ram through Biden’s “Build Back Better” spending deluge. But if McConnell can’t find ten Republicans to vote for the idea again, what other choice do they have left?
McConnell may be able to strike a deal allowing the Democrats to get the debt limit increase through more quickly, but only if they agree to a new, fixed number for the debt limit. Schumer would rather just float the issue and fund the government until after the midterm elections. McConnell would be foolish to allow that to happen cleanly because he would rather force every potentially vulnerable Democrat to vote for the higher number and allow Republican challengers to campaign on that vote for the next year.
None of these plans being discussed take into account the elephant in the room. If the GOP caves and allows the debt limit to be significantly increased and then turns around and fails to stop the Build Back Better bill to advance, it’s going to be a massive embarrassment. It will also further jack up the national debt at a time when the conservative base is already on fire about all of the spending that’s been rammed through this year.
This is normally the point where I would toss out some sort of suggestion as to how we can navigate this minefield, but I’ll be darned if anything is coming to mind. Schumer and McConnell will probably rig up some sort of 11th hour deal to offer their members before the clock runs out. But at this point, I would say that a government shutdown right before Christmas is almost as likely of an outcome.