Did McConnell Blink? Dems Claim Victory on Debt Limit
The Debt

Did McConnell Blink? Dems Claim Victory on Debt Limit

Rod Lamkey / CNP/Sipa USA

Senate Democrats on Wednesday said they were prepared to accept an offer from Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of a short-term increase in the debt ceiling. The deal would delay — but not completely defuse — a showdown over nation’s borrowing limit, pushing the deadline for a longer-term increase from the middle of this month into December.

Democrats portrayed the agreement as a win, if likely a fleeting one. “In terms of a temporary lifting of the debt ceiling, we view that as a victory, a temporary victory with more work to do,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) told CNN.

“Mitch McConnell blinked and it allows us to spend from here until November focused on finalizing the Build Back Better plan,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) told CNN. “So I think that's progress.”

“McConnell caved,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), according to The Hill. “And now we’re going to spend our time doing child care, health care and fighting climate change.”

Yet even as Democrats said they were prepared to take McConnell’s offer, they indicated that the debt limit clashes may be far from over.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, McConnell made clear that, while he was offering to raise the debt limit by a fixed amount to cover spending into December, he still expects Democrats to go it alone from there. “This will moot Democrats’ excuses about the time crunch they created and give the unified Democratic government more than enough time to pass standalone debt limit legislation through reconciliation,” he said.

Democrats continued to insist that they won’t take that path, which they have rejected as too time-consuming and risky.

Setting up another fiscal cliff: By pushing the debt limit deadline into December, the deal sets up another major fiscal cliff, given that an extension of government funding just passed by Congress is set to expire on December 3.

The politics at play: McConnell’s offer may have been prompted, at least in part, by Democrats’ talk of carving out an exception to the filibuster rule for raising the debt ceiling, allowing an increase with a simple majority vote rather than requiring 60 votes. President Biden late Tuesday called that “a real possibility.”

Biden has sought to put pressure on McConnell over his refusal to raise the debt limit, and the president met with a group of top business leaders Wednesday to continue that campaign.

McConnell’s offer requires Democrats to put a number on how much the debt limit is lifted rather than suspending the limit for a period of time, as Congress has done recently. Democrats have preferred a suspension since the fixed number could make its way into political attack ads.

The bottom line: With the clock ticking toward an October 18 deadline to lift the debt ceiling and avoid a potentially calamitous default, the tentative deal coming together Wednesday could represent a breakthrough that keeps the Treasury Department from running out of money. But disagreements about the details of the deal and whether Democrats will use reconciliation reportedly could still scuttle the whole thing — and even if lawmakers finalize a temporary debt limit increase, they could be back to brinksmanship within weeks.