The Senate was close on Wednesday evening to a short-term deal to raise the debt limit, postponing for a few months a showdown over how to craft a longer-term extension of the nation’s borrowing cap.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s compromise offer to have Republicans vote for a short-term fix — which Democrats signaled they would accept — would end a standoff over the issue but likely saddle Democrats with a politically toxic vote. However, the deal also averts the potential of an economic crisis when the federal government begins running out of funds, which Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said would occur on Oct. 18.
McConnell insisted in a statement that the extension would have a “fixed dollar amount,” which is not always included in a debt-ceiling increase. With that precise number, Republicans could more effectively use the vote against Democrats in the 2022 elections, painting them as big spenders.
Republicans could tie the debt-limit vote to the Democrats’ Build Back Better plan, which has been pegged at $3.5 trillion but is currently under discussion at around $2.1 trillion, even though the debt limit needs to be raised to allow the government to pay off debts incurred by past spending, a good portion of it by Republicans and former President Donald Trump.
Republicans know that most voters won’t look too hard at the coherence of campaign ads connecting the Democrats’ vote to raise the borrowing limit with their massive spending bill.
McConnell and Republicans used the threat of a filibuster to force Democrats to bargain over the agreement, since Democrats have a slim 50-seat majority and can break ties only with the help of Vice President Kamala Harris. Because McConnell had all 50 Republican senators united behind him, he was able to deprive Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of the 10 votes he needed to raise the debt ceiling along normal lines, under which a dollar amount is not normally explicitly included.
Democrats have been incensed at Republican intransigence, especially since Democrats helped the GOP raise the debt ceiling three times during Trump’s presidency, even after Republicans used reconciliation to pass a tax cut package that Democrats opposed. Between $7 trillion and $8 trillion was added to the national debt during Trump's term in office.
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