Congress Careens Toward a Crisis
The Debt

Congress Careens Toward a Crisis

Reuters/Tom Brenner

It sure looks like we’re heading for a full-blown crisis.

The House is set to vote this evening on a stopgap government funding bill that would also suspend the federal borrowing limit through December 16, 2022 and provide money for disaster relief and resettling Afghan evacuees — but the legislation is likely doomed in the Senate, where Republican votes would be needed for it to pass.

Republicans insist they won’t help raise the debt ceiling because they oppose Democrats’ proposed $3.5 trillion package of social welfare spending and tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy. “They have the capacity to raise the debt ceiling by themselves, just like the capacity they have to spend money by themselves. So we're not going to help them do either one," Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) said Monday night.

That leaves it entirely unclear whether lawmakers will be able to prevent a government shutdown in 10 days or avoid a potentially calamitous debt default next month.

Democrats opted to link the suspension of the debt limit with an extension of funding for the federal government through December 3, essentially daring Republicans to oppose the whole package, including $28.6 billion in hurricane and wildfire relief, and bring federal operations to a halt.

“We know the Republican justification for forcing a default is totally dishonest, plain and simple,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “Playing games with the debt ceiling is playing with fire and putting it on the back of the American people.”

Republicans have given no indication that they’ll back down, though — and Democrats have given little indication that they’ve got a fallback plan ready to go. They can still unilaterally raise the debt limit by adding an increase to their budget reconciliation package, though the process would take time and Democratic leaders have steered away from this option so far.

“In recent days, Democratic lawmakers have reassured they will not allow the country to default. Some have said they could ultimately take special legislative maneuvers to bypass the Republican blockade and adopt the debt ceiling increase on their own,” The Washington Post’s Tony Romm writes. “But the process could take days that Democrats simply do not have, meaning at least a partial or short-term government shutdown is possible even if Congress staves off a more apocalyptic financial meltdown.”

Hoyer says bipartisan infrastructure bill will get a vote next week: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told reporters Tuesday that the Senate’s $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill will indeed be brought up for a vote next week, even though Democrats’ larger budget reconciliation bill won’t be ready by then. “This is a huge win for moderates in both chambers,” Politico’s Playbook PM notes. “That effectively decouples the two bills, officially spiking the so-called ‘two-track’ process that leadership hoped would enable passage of both while keeping the party united.”

Dozens of progressives say they won’t support the infrastructure bill without the reconciliation bill, as they try to maintain some leverage to force moderates to support the larger package. And House Republicans likely won’t provide many votes for the infrastructure bill, either. “It will not pass,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said of the infrastructure bill Monday, according to Punchbowl News. “The two have to go together. That was the deal made in the Senate. That was why the progressive senators voted for the infrastructure bill.”

Democrats cut Iron Dome funding from their bill: In another sign of the divisions between Democratic moderates and progressives, House Democrats on Tuesday pulled $1 billion in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system from their bill after progressives objected to the provision. A spokesperson for House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said that the Iron Dome funding will be included in the final defense funding bill later this year, according to The Hill.

The bottom line: Tuesday’s House vote won’t do anything to prevent a government shutdown or debt default given Senate Republicans’ opposition to the legislation. And with Democratic differences far from resolved, the fate of President Biden’s Build Back Better plan remains up in the air as well.