As analysts and pundits try to game out how the fight over raising the debt limit might end, one scenario has President Joe Biden, Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans led by Mitch McConnell hashing out a deal to raise the borrowing cap and avert a potentially catastrophic default.
McConnell on Tuesday weighed in on that possibility, essentially telling reporters: Nope.
“You’re probably wondering what role if any the Senate would play in this. As some of you recall, I’ve been through a few of these debt ceiling situations,” McConnell said, according to The Hill. “I can’t imagine any kind of debt ceiling measure that could pass the Senate would also pass the House, so even though the debt ceiling could originate in either the House or the Senate, in this current situation, the debt ceiling fix, if there is one, or how it’s to be dealt with, will have to come out of the House.”
McConnell has worked with Democrats in the past to find ways to avoid a debt crisis, and he has emphasized in recent days that the nation can’t be allowed to default. “It never has, and it never will,” he said last week, predicting negotiations would land on some deal to raise the borrowing limit.
For now, though, McConnell and Senate Republicans are going to let House Republicans take the lead.
“McConnell and his leadership team are wary about appearing to undercut the House GOP’s position and see little chance at success by trying to hash out a deal without the explicit blessing of Speaker Kevin McCarthy,” CNN’s Manu Raju and Ted Barrett report. “With roughly four months before fears of a default dramatically intensify, Senate Republicans say they will sit back and see how the House GOP maneuvers a way to raise the $31.4 trillion borrowing limit – before deciding if they need to insert themselves into the process.”
Democrats, meanwhile, are pressing for Republicans to lay out their demands, or a plan. “One of the things we want to do on the debt ceiling is say to the Republicans: Show us your plan,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said. Similarly, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said Republicans should specify the cuts they want: “Is your plan to cut or eliminate Social Security? Show the American people,” he said.
What it means: Senate Republicans aren’t about to undercut whatever leverage their House counterparts might have in the current standoff — not yet anyway. “Some believe that a Senate deal could be reached and would receive 60 votes to break a filibuster, but only if McConnell is on board,” CNN’s Raju and Barrett say. “At that point, a House vote could occur if 218 members sign a ‘discharge petition’ and force a floor vote in that chamber, meaning at least six Republicans would have to join 212 Democrats. But that time-consuming process rarely succeeds, and several swing-vote House Republicans say they won’t go for that effort – at least not yet.”
Politico’s Burgess Everett notes that McConnell might not have the nine Republican votes he’d need right now to clear a debt limit increase, having spent so much political capital to pass a $1.7 trillion omnibus budget bill last month.
The bottom line: We’re still in the early stages of this standoff and it could well be months before we see progress. While the parties continue their game of chicken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Tuesday notified lawmakers of an additional measure she’s taking to push off a potential default: deferring investments for the Federal Employees’ Retirement System, with a plan to make the fund whole once the debt limit is addressed. “I respectfully urge Congress to act promptly to protect the full faith and credit of the United States,” she wrote, again.