Late Thursday evening, October 7 – after a good deal of back and forth and uncertainty as to whether enough Republicans would agree to overcome the filibuster – the Senate passed a bill to increase the debt limit by $480 billion. The actual passage of the bill was right down that party line, but to even get there, ten Republicans had to cross the aisle on the cloture vote. Eleven did.
Now Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says the GOP finally backed down from the dangerous brinkmanship at the last moment – and lambasted them for playing that game to begin with. Donald Trump, who implored Republicans not to give Democrats the easy win on this, believes the GOP “caved.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), however, seems to still believe everything is going according to plan.
Thursday night, all 50 senators on the Democrat side voted to pass the bill and to support Sen. Schumer’s motion for cloture – that is, for ending the debate and moving on to the floor vote. Overcoming a filibuster requires 60 votes, which means that, assuming all the Dems play ball, ten Republicans have to join them. Thursday night, every voting Republican might have toed the party line on the floor vote – but 11 of them crossed the aisle to make good on Sen. McConnell’s offer to pass the temporary increase through the traditional process.
Senators John Barrasso (R-WY), Roy Blunt (R-MO), Shelley Capito (R-WV), Susan Collins (R-ME), John Cornyn (R-TX), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Rob Portman (R-OH), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Richard Shelby (R-AL), and John Thune (R-SD) all joined the senate majority leader in fulfilling his promise. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) voted against cloture, but didn’t bother to participate when it came to the floor afterward. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who has decided not to run for re-election, abstained from voting entirely. According to Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the House will take up the bill when it reconvenes Tuesday, October 12 – just days before the debt ceiling is expected to be hit.
What’s the Plan?
Sen. McConnell said Democrats could have their debt ceiling suspension before it came to a vote, and fell short of the mark, just a week earlier – they would just have to burn one of their two chances at budget reconciliation for Fiscal Year (FY) 2022. That bill was a continuing resolution (CR) and debt ceiling suspension through December 2022, with the new limit set to accommodate however much the government racks up in the ensuing year of potentially unrestrained spending.
The plan seemed simple enough: If Democrats use the reconciliation process to suspend the debt limit, then they only get one more shot at ramming partisan spending through the Senate without GOP support – which means they could pass the Build Back Better Act, if they really want – but then they’re done. If, however, they choose to hold out and America defaults on the debt or the market plummets in anticipation of such a disaster, the Democrats would have a hard time coming out smelling like roses when they had a path forward and chose not to take it.
Democrats warned that it would take too much time to prepare a reconciliation bill, and that negative consequences could arise even if they did choose that route – and McConnell offered Schumer that new deal. Ostensibly, that was to give Democrats time to prepare a long-term bill for reconciliation and eliminate the final remaining excuse that might avert the public opinion disaster sure to await Democrats should they allow the economy to go belly up when they have a way out. From McConnell’s perspective, then, things seem to be shaping up nicely.
Schumer, however, accused Republicans – after the bipartisan cloture vote, of course – of engaging in a dangerous game of brinkmanship that risks the financial wellbeing of the entire nation. Former President Donald Trump – and some Democrats – hold the opinion that the GOP simply caved under the pressure, the fear of how they would look if the creditors came for the country. So what is it – caving to peer pressure, veering safely away at the last moment, or giving Democrats just enough rope to hang themselves? Perhaps it’s something else entirely.
GOP Caving or Filibuster Saving?
There are 50 Democrat votes in the Senate – 48 actual Democrats and two independents who might as well be. The GOP also has 50 seats. Split evenly down the middle, the only thing stopping partisan legislation from clearing the upper chamber just as it does the lower is the filibuster. And all it would take for that filibuster to become a thing of the past – as it has in the confirmation of federal appointees – is for a majority of the Senate to vote to eliminate it. Called the nuclear option, this route requires only cooperation between the Democrats – and Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie breaker, should all 50 Republicans oppose it.
As Liberty Nation’s Mark Angelides explained, “President Joe Biden hinted on Tuesday, October 5, that his party might go it alone in raising the debt ceiling after the Senate reached a legislative stalemate.” Remember that McConnell had publicly declared that Democrats would have to adjust the debt limit by reconciliation after the House addressed the issue. Still, Schumer pushed a vote, which failed. When asked by reporters later if Biden would consider removing the filibuster just to increase the debt limit, Biden answered: “Oh, I think that’s a real possibility.”
Was McConnell listening? Perhaps these 11 Republicans simply buckled under the pressure. Maybe they sensed too much frustration from the other side and scrapped the Senate minority leader’s plan – at least until December – to preserve the filibuster. Then again, the Democrats could be playing right into McConnell’s hand, getting what they want in the short term, only to be left high and dry in the end.
~ Read more from James Fite.