Congress Asleep at the Switch as the Debt Ceiling Looms
Policy + Politics

Congress Asleep at the Switch as the Debt Ceiling Looms

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times

With the U.S. Treasury less than two weeks away from running out of money and being forced to choose which bills to pay and which to default on, Congress hasn’t assembled a credible plan to do what almost everyone acknowledges is inevitable: raise the Treasury’s borrowing limit so that it can fund the spending that lawmakers have already approved.

Worse still, with no viable option currently in play, reports from Capitol Hill now indicate that even an obviously doomed effort to raise the debt limit can’t garner enough Republican support to pass the House of Representatives.

Related: Debt Crisis and Government Shutdown Fears Cloud Talk of Budget Reform

According to Politico, the Terms of Credit Act, introduced by Republican Study Committee Chairman Bill Flores of Texas, will not get a vote in the House of Representatives this week as many had expected. The bill would raise the debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion in exchange for a number of conservative priorities, including the elimination $3.8 trillion in mandatory spending over the next decade (mandatory programs include things like Medicare, Medicaid, and many programs meant to assist the poor.) It demands a vote on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and a freeze on regulatory actions by the executive branch.

Interestingly, the bill would also specify changes to procedures in the Senate that would limit the ability of lawmakers to debate some appropriations bills and set rules for the Senate’s consideration of resolutions sent over from the House in connection with the Balanced Budget Amendment.

Putting aside the huge cut to entitlement programs, which would no doubt earn the bill a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, the idea that the Senate would suffer the House to write revisions of its operating rules was ridiculous enough to guarantee that the bill, at least as written, would never make it through that chamber.

However, according to Politico’s Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan, the bill now probably won’t even make it to the floor of the House because the most conservative members in the House won’t support it without further concessions from Democrats.

Related: What a Debt Ceiling Disaster Could Mean to You

With the House GOP getting ready to vote on a new speaker next week, the administration and its supporters in Congress are getting nervous that lawmakers are leaving themselves too little time to get a deal on the debt ceiling done.

Calling it a “calendar of chaos” in the House, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) told reporters Thursday, “We have to act.”

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew earlier this week warned about the dire consequences of failing to pass a debt limit increase soon.

“What I am most worried about ... is an accident,” he said. “Accidents can happen when you play this last-minute brinkmanship game.”

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, who is expected to retire at the end of the month if Republicans can elect his successor, has sought to calm talk of potential default. “I have to make clear: We’re not going to default on our debt,” he said Tuesday.