Senate Races to Avert a Debt Disaster
The Debt

Senate Races to Avert a Debt Disaster

Rod Lamkey/CNP/Sipa USA

The Senate is set to vote Thursday evening on an agreement to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a government default that could occur in less than two weeks, but some Republicans are unhappy about the deal and it’s not clear yet whether the GOP will be able to muster the necessary votes.

The agreement announced by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) Thursday would raise the debt ceiling by $480 billion above its current level of $28.4 trillion, allowing the Treasury to continue financing federal spending without restraint until December 3. The date is an estimate, though, and some Republican lawmakers say the debt limit increase could push the new potential default date into early January.

“There is no way to predict with any precision exactly how much you would need to increase the debt limit by to get to a certain date,” Shai Akabas, the director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, told The New York Times.

Vote unclear: Quick passage of the deal would require unanimous consent in the Senate. Just one Republican can object, in which case the 50 Democrats would need to find at least 10 Republicans to vote with them to move the bill ahead, at which point it could pass with a simple majority.

Several conservative Republicans, including Sens. Mike Lee (UT), Ted Cruz (TX) and Rand Paul (KY) have indicated they would demand a vote, and it’s not clear that there are 10 Republicans willing to publicly support the bill.

Senate Republican Whip John Thune (SD) said that as of Thursday afternoon, GOP lawmakers were still debating the measure. “We’re having conversations with our members and kind of figuring out where people are, but, as you might expect, this is not an easy one to whip,” he said. “In the end we’ll be there, but it will be a painful birthing process.”

Some Republicans are worried about how their base will respond to the bill passing without GOP resistance, the Times’ Emily Cochrane reports. Former President Donald Trump has been pushing Republicans to keep fighting over the debt limit, increasing pressure on GOP lawmakers to withhold their support.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (SC) is another one of the GOP lawmakers who aren’t happy about the agreement. “I don’t understand why we’re folding,” Graham said Thursday, referring to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) apparent retreat from his hardline position on the matter. “This is a complete capitulation.”

McConnell still pushing reconciliation: McConnell, the driving force behind Republican resistance to cooperating with Democrats on the debt limit, said the agreement doesn’t change his position on raising the ceiling. He still insists that Democrats use the budget reconciliation process to raise the limit on their own, with no Republican help. The deal simply pushes back the deadline for getting that done.

But Democrats don’t appear to be any more interested in acceding to McConnell’s demand now than they were before the short-term agreement was announced. “He said all along that he wanted us to do this through budget reconciliation. And we're not doing it,” said Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) “We made it clear we're going to stand strong.”

“The ultimate solution would be for a bipartisan vote to occur,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) said. “Clearly, Mitch McConnell continues to not want to take any responsibility.”

Other lawmakers were exasperated by the need to address what seems like an artificial and avoidable crisis. “This whole process is stupidity on steroids,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) said.

Another fiscal cliff coming: If or when the deal is approved, Congress will have given itself a few more weeks to work out a longer-term solution. But things may not be any easier in December, and may in fact be more difficult, since lawmakers will also be dealing with funding for the federal government, which is scheduled to expire on December 3.