GOP blocks debt limit hike, government funding
Senate Republicans on Monday evening blocked a measure to fund the government and suspend the debt ceiling, carrying through on their threat to not deliver votes for a Democratic measure to raise the government's borrowing limit.
The vote tally was 48-50. Sixty votes were needed to advance the measure.
No Republicans voted for the legislation.
The setback is the latest in a slow-motion brawl over how to fund the government and deal with the debt ceiling, which kicked back in on Aug. 1 with the Treasury Department using “extraordinary measures” since then to keep the government solvent.
Congress has until the end of Thursday to pass a government funding bill to avoid a shutdown the following day. The deadline for needing to deal with the country’s borrowing limit is less definite. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned congressional leadership they might need to take action as soon as next month.
Democratic leaders haven’t unveiled what their next step will be, but they are vowing to prevent a shutdown on their watch. In order to deliver on that promise, they’ll need Republican cooperation to speed up a government funding bill.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) initially voted to start debate but switched his vote — a procedural move that allows him to easily bring the measure back up for consideration.
"I changed my vote from yes to no in order to reserve the option of additional action on the House-passed legislation. Keeping the government open and preventing a default is vital to our country's future and we'll be taking further action to prevent this from happening this week," Schumer said.
If they punt the debt fight for now, they have options on funding the government, either sticking with the Dec. 3 end date or going with a bill to try to line it up with the potential “x” date in the coming weeks when Congress will have to address the debt ceiling.
“Well, I don’t want to shut down the government,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), while noting Schumer has the final say on strategy.
A spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) didn’t respond to a request for comment, but Pelosi told reporters late last week that “we will keep our government open by Sept. 30, which is our date, and continue the conversation about the debt ceiling, but not for long.”
Republicans have warned for months, including just hours before Monday’s vote, that they won’t help Democrats raise or suspend the debt ceiling. Democrats voted with Republicans during the Trump administration to suspend the debt ceiling as part of larger funding packages.
“For more than two months now Senate Republicans have been completely clear about how this process will play out. So let me make it abundantly clear one more time, we will support a clean continuing resolution that will prevent a government shutdown. ...We will not provide Republican votes for raising the debt ceiling,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
McConnell and other GOP senators tried to bring up a short-term funding bill without the debt hike but Democrats blocked the attempt.
Democrats, meanwhile, tried to ramp up pressure on Republicans, warning that by shooting down the House-passed bill they are pushing the country closer to a default. Though the United States government has never defaulted, a similar standoff in 2011 resulted in S&P stripping the United States of its longtime AAA credit rating.
Schumer called the GOP position “unhinged,” arguing that there was a choice between “preserving our full faith and credit or vote in favor of an unprecedented default.”
They are “deliberately sabotaging our country’s ability to pay the bills and likely causing the country’s first-ever default in American history,” Schumer said.
Sixty-four House Democrats, including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), sent a letter to McConnell on Monday arguing that Republicans are risking the country’s economic recovery, after it took a massive hit last year when businesses closed during coronavirus restrictions.
“Holding the debt limit hostage ... is a dangerous, illogical, and irresponsible way to express that concern,” the Democratic lawmakers wrote.
But that’s done little to move Republicans, who are trying to force Democrats to raise the debt ceiling on their own through the $3.5 trillion spending package that they can pass without any GOP support.
McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor, noted that Senate Democrats hadn’t voted for raising the debt ceiling during the George W. Bush administration when Republicans controlled both chambers and the White House.
But Democrats didn’t filibuster that debt ceiling hike, meaning Republicans were able to raise it on their own with a simple majority. GOP leadership has acknowledged that they have conservative members who are filibustering the government funding-debt bill, forcing Democrats to seek the higher target.
Republicans see a political advantage to forcing Democrats to raise the debt ceiling on their own through reconciliation: Doing so forces Democrats to raise the debt to a certain number, instead of doing a suspension through a certain date. The move would likely be fodder for campaign ads against vulnerable Democrats in the 2022 midterm elections.
Republicans also hope that adding the debt fight to the reconciliation bill will make it harder for Democrats to pass the $3.5 trillion package, where they are already facing internal pushback over both the scope and the details of the sweeping bill.
Democrats could amend the budget resolution to try to include the debt limit, though there’s no guarantee that it will line up with the spending bill. They’ve been reluctant to put that option on the table, pushing instead for a debt vote that is bipartisan.
The U.S. is on track to default on the national debt between Oct. 15 and Nov. 4 if Congress is unable to raise the federal debt ceiling, according to a forecast released Friday by the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Durbin said he expected Congress would need to act in a “matter of days” but didn’t endorse using reconciliation.
“I wouldn’t jump into any approach,” Durbin said, adding that “Schumer might have a better approach.”
Updated at 6:52 p.m.