Republicans are aiming to force Democrats to raise the debt ceiling on their own, without any GOP help, hoping that such a vote would solidify voter perceptions of Democrats as irresponsible spenders.
Senate Democrats released a fiscal year 2022 budget resolution on Monday that includes a framework for a $3.5 trillion spending package. By following the budget reconciliation process, Democrats have the ability to pass the spending measure without any GOP help, bypassing the filibuster.
Notably absent from the resolution, though, is a plan to suspend or raise the debt limit, which was already hit at the start of the month and must be raised sometime this fall. In other words, Democrats are not aiming to raise the debt ceiling on their own and instead are planning to count on Republican votes.
But Republicans are now hoping to force Democratic leadership's hand into raising the debt ceiling through reconciliation because they believe raising the debt limit after such heavy spending is politically unpopular and don't want to be associated with it at all. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has called on the GOP to hold its ground and not raise the ceiling through regular order.
“Democrats want Republicans to help them raise the debt limit so they can keep spending historic sums of money with zero Republican input and zero Republican votes,” the Kentucky Republican said on Monday. “Here’s the comedy, they won’t let Republicans have any say in this monstrosity, but they want our help raising their credit card to make it happen.”
A staffer for a prominent Republican on Capitol Hill told the Washington Examiner that Republicans’ overarching goal as the deadline approaches is to reinforce the notion that the debt ceiling is one that belongs to the Democrats alone.
If Democrats don't raise the debt limit through reconciliation, they will need at least 10 Republicans to agree to raise it through regular order.
“I think the Democrats are showing their hand, that they think it’s unpopular to increase the debt limit by trillions and trillions of dollars to finance their spending program, or else they would be proud to go ahead and put their names to it and cast it on a party-line vote,” said Matthew Dickerson, director of the federal budget center at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Dickerson told the Washington Examiner it would be an “extraordinarily difficult” ask for Republican members of Congress to vote in favor of a clean debt limit increase because it would be as though they are just giving a blank check to the Biden administration to spend what it wants without input from across the aisle.
The vote to raise the debt limit is also politically fraught.
Dickerson said that given how dramatic the Democratic spending plans are, the vote to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally might cause some centrist Democrats a bit of heartburn. The problem for Democrats, if they take the route of reconciliation, is that it puts their members on record for a massive increase in the debt limit, he said.
It may prove particularly harmful to Democrats who are in purple and red districts and face reelection next year, which is gearing up to be a closely fought election cycle. While Democrats control both chambers, they do so only marginally. The party not in power also traditionally has a bit of an advantage, and even some Democrats are beginning to sweat about the prospect of losing control of Congress.
“If the election were held today, we would lose,” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a New York Democrat and the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, recently said of new polling from battleground districts.
Republicans are also hammering the spending in light of inflation, which has been consistently higher than anticipated. Some economists fear that injecting more federal funds into the economy has the potential to make the price increases even worse, which could be used as a cudgel by Republicans going into 2022.
“Congress cannot steer this country out of a fiscal crisis with a penny-wise and pound-foolish approach that ignores the unsustainable fiscal trajectory we are currently on,” said Rep. Jason Smith, ranking member of the Budget Committee, of the debt ceiling debate late last month. “Already we are witnessing the effects of unchecked government spending on our economy with record inflation that is driving up the cost of food, clothing, and energy for American workers and families.”
A two-year congressional suspension of the debt ceiling expired Sunday, making the level of federal debt, more than $28 trillion, the new ceiling. The debt limit was paused at $22 trillion in 2019 — national debt hit $22 trillion in April of that year, less than a year after it hit $21 trillion.
Congress must now act to raise or suspend the cap, or the country could fall behind on its obligations or fail to make a payment on the debt, which would have catastrophic effects on the global financial system. In the meantime, the Treasury Department has begun “extraordinary measures” to keep the United States in line with its obligations for the time being. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that the U.S. has until October or November to raise the limit and avoid exhausting its ability to borrow.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen implored both parties to work together to increase or suspend the limit in a Monday letter to lawmakers. She pointed out how despite past battles over the matter, it has always been resolved.
“In recent years Congress has addressed the debt limit through regular order, with broad bipartisan support,” Yellen said. “This is a shared responsibility, and I urge Congress to come together on a bipartisan basis as it has in the past to protect the full faith and credit of the United States.”
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