The Dance Of The Debt Limit Deadline, Continued
While temporary spending bills have bought some breathing room, the debt limit issue for both houses of congress isn’t going anywhere fast:
1) The Position: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been saying since mid-July that he and his GOP colleagues won’t participate in lifting the debt limit. That means Republicans won’t vote to lift the debt limit, and they won’t allow Democrats to do it by the normal legislative processes. McConnell is demanding Democrats use reconciliation to lift the borrowing cap.
2) The Incentives: From a political point of view, there are a few things driving McConnell and Senate Republicans. Even after Republicans spent like drunken sailors during the Trump years, they’re eager to have the political conversation turn back toward the national debt and deficits — never mind the hypocrisy. Republicans look at the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package proposed by President Joe Biden on top of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, coupled with rising inflation, and believe they can paint Democrats as reckless and incapable of leading the country during these uncertain times.
This whole episode has to be viewed as a political attack by McConnell on the Democrats’ reconciliation package. Chaos helps derail the Democrats’ agenda. This Democratic legislation is another step toward “partisan socialism,” where everything in Americans’ economic life flows from Washington, transforming the entire social fabric of the nation, according to McConnell. Listen to his floor speeches, McConnell is telling you exactly what he thinks.
And McConnell and Senate Republicans are particularly peeved that Democrats keep thumbing their nose at reconciliation, which they believe was the most logical path to raise the debt limit. This has led to Republicans digging in deeper, they tell us. It also helps that McConnell truly can’t be shamed. He doesn’t care what people say about him. Furthermore, McConnell world seems completely certain that Republicans won’t be blamed for an economic meltdown since Democrats control the White House and Congress.
3) The Strengths: McConnell has his conference solidly behind him, much more than Democrats or the White House initially believed. We’ve struggled to come up with 10 Senate Republicans that would even contemplate going against McConnell here, much less actually do it.
4) The Weakness: A debt crisis isn’t like a government shutdown. If the U.S. government technically defaults on its $28 trillion-plus debt, the short and long-term damage to the American economy would be “catastrophic,” according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Millions of Americans would pay the price for this political stalemate, and the country’s status as the world’s leading economic and financial power would be jeopardized.
McConnell’s demand for reconciliation versus an up-or-down vote under regular order is a meaningless parliamentary distinction that 99.99% of Americans won’t care about if this crisis leads to a recession.
Another huge point — if default were to happen just nine months after the bloody Jan. 6 insurrection, it would further confirm for many here and abroad that the American experiment has run its course and they should look elsewhere for global leadership.
The ultimate weaknesses in McConnell’s position are two-fold. No. 1: Will Senate Republicans get weak-kneed as the crisis point approaches? No. 2: If McConnell alters his position and decides to allow this vote to proceed in regular order, Senate Republicans are staking out a position that would be hard to retreat from politically.
5) Their End Game: Here’s something that kind of flew under the radar. In McConnell’s letter to Biden on Monday, the Kentucky Republican sought to bypass Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and appeal directly to Biden. The undertone of the letter was that McConnell is being misjudged: he’s dead serious about forcing Democrats to do this on their own.