Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have agreed on a process to raise the nation’s debt limit before the United States defaults on its obligations.
The complex process requires approval by the House and Senate to suspend the rules and allow a one-time-only majority vote in the Senate — a “fast-track” process. And the suspension of the rules is only good until January 15 and Congress would have to specify the exact dollar amount of a new national debt limit — likely more than $30 trillion.
If successful, McConnell will have scored a major political coup, forcing the debt limit increase to pass with only Democratic votes. Not a single Republican will vote to raise the debt limit.
The problem is that McConnell still needs 10 Republicans for the vote to allow the fast-track process to go forward. But the minority leader is convinced he can get the necessary support and allow the vote to go forward.
The Senate minority leader spent Tuesday selling his members on a convoluted strategy that would require at least 10 Republicans to approve legislation that would later allow Senate Democrats to raise the debt ceiling by a simple majority vote. After a leadership meeting and a Senate GOP lunch, McConnell said he’d done enough work to clinch the deal in a vote expected on Thursday.
“There are always differences of opinion among Republicans about how to handle a delicate issue like the debt ceiling,” McConnell told reporters. “I’m confident that this particular procedure coupled with the avoidance of Medicare cuts will receive enough Republican support to clear the 60-vote threshold.
It’s not a done deal by any means. Some Republicans are objecting to sneaking in an attachment to the rule change that would prevent automatic cuts to Medicare from kicking in. Others don’t want to make it any easier for Democrats.
But probably, enough Republicans see the fast-track approach as the least of all evils.
Though Republicans would still be facilitating an easier debt ceiling increase for Democrats by carving out an exception to the Senate’s supermajority requirement, it’s increasingly likely enough Republicans view it as the least-bad scenario. Take Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). He rebuffed efforts Monday to tie a debt ceiling increase to the annual defense bill, but he can live with a separate effort that — once it breaks a GOP filibuster — would allow Democrats to raise the debt ceiling without any GOP help.
“I’m going to support Democrats raising the debt ceiling without Republican votes,” Cornyn said. “To have Democrats raise the debt ceiling and be held accountable for racking up the debt is my goal. And this helps us accomplish it.”
The House will vote tomorrow on the process while the Senate is expected to vote on Thursday.
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