Late last night, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell struck a deal on a very short-term increase in the debt limit.
The deal will increase the limit by about $480 billion, which will allow the government to pay its bills in full until early December.
Democratic partisans are crowing about their win, but one of the most partisan of them, Josh Marshall, points out that this is more of a “blink” than a cave by McConnell.
Why is Mitch McConnell blinking? Let’s be clear: this is a blink, not a cave. There’s a lot to play out. But here is the gist. Democrats refusal to budge on using reconciliation to beat Republicans’ repeated filibusters is moving quickly toward a situation where there will literally be only two options: filibuster carve-out or debt default. Those are both very bad options to McConnell. As I noted yesterday, this isn’t a matter of saying “Oh Democrats are tougher. They won’t cave.” It’s that the mechanics of reconciliation will mean there’s no more time. They’ll have no way to cave. That calendar reality creates a very bad situation for McConnell.
McConnell gave up very little — a small amount of time when it comes down to it. And he may have saved the filibuster in the process. That’s very big.
Also, Democrats are prevented from passing any trillion-dollar legislation at all — at least until a more permanent solution to the debt limit is found.
The deal, if approved by both chambers of Congress, would avert a financial crisis with only days to spare ahead of the original October 18 deadline, at which point the U.S. government would have struggled to fulfill its financial obligations — including paying Social Security to seniors, providing tax benefits to families with children, or offering benefits to troops and veterans.
But it also tees up yet another vicious fight between Democrats and Republicans over the future of federal spending, a battle likely to be all the more fierce in the waning hours of the year — when Congress must confront other challenges including an urgent need to fund the government and prevent a shutdown. An existing agreement to fund federal operations also expires in early December.
That budget fight in December along with another debt limit showdown will give McConnell maximum leverage. And since McConnell has said he will not give the Democrats the 10 votes they need to break the filibuster, they will have to use reconciliation.
That was the strategy this time around, but the big difference is that in December Democrats will have all their ducks in a row for passing reconciliation — probably less than $2 trillion with a lot of the radical nonsense removed. They won’t have the luxury of claiming there’s no time to put a reconciliation package together when it’s sitting right in front of their faces.
So unless something changes radically, the Democrats are going to be forced to walk the plank all by themselves on raising the debt limit. Does anyone else notice that this is exactly what McConnell wanted all along?