Republicans are done helping the Democrats raise the debt ceiling. That’s what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said after he struck a deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to raise the limit back in October. But now the time has come once again to address the issue, and folks are wondering: Will the GOP cave on the debt limit again? To some degree, it already has. McConnell and Schumer have once again made a deal – and this time, they’re tying the power to ignore fiscal responsibility to a Medicare bill as a form of legislative extortion.
Legislative Sleight of Hand
Don’t look over there; look right here. That’s what Sen. McConnell and his supporters in the Senate are saying about the debt limit. Republicans aren’t going to help the Democrats ignore fiscal responsibility anymore – but if the minority leader gets his way, the GOP will hand the Democrats the ability to do it themselves.
The deal reached Tuesday, December 7, between McConnell and Schumer amends the Protecting Medicare and American Farmers from Sequester Cuts Act, which had already passed the Senate, by adding a section allowing a “one-time” filibuster-proof vote to raise the debt limit by simple majority. The actual resolution to increase the borrowing cap will be determined later, but the real debt ceiling vote is here in this otherwise unrelated bill that still requires 60 votes to clear the Senate. So why the subterfuge?
It’s All About the Narrative
Republicans continuously resort to brinkmanship to use the debt ceiling and government funding as a cudgel to get what they want. So say the Democrats and the establishment media. And, of course, raising the debt limit is simply what must be done to pay for all that spending the government already did under previous administrations, like when Trump was president.
Yes, the Republicans use this issue as leverage to get what they want. Yes, America has debt payments to make because previous administrations spent beyond their means – and that does include Trump, but it also includes Obama and others from both sides. By the time a new president takes over, it’ll include Joe Biden, too.
Never mind who’s to blame; if we don’t raise that debt limit, America will default on its debts by December 15, right? Maybe – but only if Congress chooses to allow the nation to continue spending money it doesn’t have. As noted economist Stephen Moore recently told Liberty Nation’s Andrew Moran, there’s another way: Congress could pass a balanced budget and only spend what it brings in. At the very least, the GOP could compromise by giving the Democrats the debt limit increase they want now, but only in return for a balanced budget the next go around.
But that isn’t the chosen path. Democrats have once again demanded an increase or suspension – with the latter being preferred – and, just like last time, have no intention of actually trying to resolve the problem of spiraling debt. To be fair to the Democrats, Republican politicians typically aren’t any better; they too prefer to borrow more rather than trim budgetary fat, only becoming fiscal hawks when it’s the other team asking for more money.
Since it’s Democrats standing with their hands out, Republicans have vowed not to help them again – but they will. This vote to allow Democrats the power to raise the debt ceiling by simple majority is, indeed, helping the Democrats increase the limit – but it does so in a way that allows complicit GOP lawmakers to keep the gears greased without actually putting in the work to fix the broken system while maintaining the illusion that they stand upon some moral high ground.
Playing With Fire
The proposed amendment was added to the bill in time to clear the House Tuesday night. Now it goes before the Senate for official approval of the amendment before the complete bill goes on to the president to be signed into law. As amended, the act will put off the January 2022 2% cut in Medicare spending to April of the same year and slash it in half to boot. As for the debt limit, Section 8 gives Congress until December 31, 2021, to pass by simple majority a joint resolution to increase the debt limit by $_____. Yes, that’s the dollar symbol and a blank space, meaning the actual amount will be determined later.
What’s more, all points of order are waived, the motion is not debatable, and the motion is not subject to being postponed. There will be no vote to reconsider. After a limited debate period and zero amendments, a single, simple majority floor vote will be held. If at least 51 senators – or 50 senators and the vice president – support the resolution, it will pass immediately.
What does this mean for the filibuster? It means the legislative safeguard isn’t so set in stone as the minority party traditionally suggests. This is a one-time measure, sure, but it also sets the precedent that whenever the majority party wants something done, it simply needs to tie a similar “one-time” rule change to whatever the other side seems least likely to sacrifice. This time, it’s the debt limit – something Congress has traditionally eventually come together to increase anyway. What will it be next time: more gun control, a federal right to abortion, the abolition of voting ID requirements, or an opening of the border, perhaps?
The ultimate question at this point is whether enough Senate Republicans will sign on to McConnell’s scheme. The amended Medicare bill passed the House along party lines – more or less. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) sided with the Democrats for a final vote of 222-212, but that Kinzinger’s vote belongs to the Democrats is hardly news these days. Should ten Republicans help pass the amendment, the resolution to increase the debt limit will almost certainly follow immediately – and it will almost certainly pass both chambers, regardless of how Democrats happened to fill in the blank.
~ Read more from James Fite.