The last time Congress dealt with a vote to raise the debt limit, there was partisan blood on the floor as both sides engaged in a bitter PR struggle to assign blame for the inability of our lawmakers to act rationally.
It would be wonderful if Congress could find the courage to end this stupidity about raising the debt limit on monies already approved. But when the opportunity to stick it to your opponents presents itself, it’s hard to say “no.”
The current debt limit will expire on December 15, we’re told by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. This time, both Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would dearly love to avoid the usual rancor, both for different reasons.
McConnell worries about a gargantuan defense policy bill not getting passed in time. The $768 billion National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 has been languishing for months as Congress dithers about some of the more controversial policies, including a review of the Afghan war and reining in presidential war powers. The Congress has until the end of the year to get it done.
As for Schumer, he’s like a college kid who waited until the last minute to study for finals. Not only does the debt ceiling need to be raised, but the temporary funding measure Congress passed at the beginning of October will expire before December 3 and needs to be reauthorized. And there’s Biden’s $2 trillion spendapalooza just passed by the House that has to get by Joe Manchin and the Senate before the president can sign it.
A full plate, to be sure. But the two leaders may have found common ground — at least enough not to default on the national debt and scramble the nation’s defenses.
The two had a rare in-person meeting — a day after two sources told The Hill that they were talking — with McConnell saying afterward that they had a “good conversation.”
“We agreed to kind of keep talking, working together to try to get somewhere,” McConnell added.
Trying to come up with a path forward on the debt ceiling has payoffs for both: Schumer is facing a packed year-end schedule that would be complicated by a protracted debt fight, with funding the government, a massive defense policy bill and President Biden’s climate and social spending plan also on the to-do list.
Both leaders are under partisan pressures to get things done, but McConnell has Donald Trump to deal with. And Trump has made McConnell his whipping boy, to the delight of his followers.
McConnell, meanwhile, faced fierce backlash from conservatives in his own caucus for his strategy during the debt ceiling fight earlier this year. And Republicans are aware of the pressure that Sens. Kyrsten and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) are under to change the filibuster.
Former President Trump’s constant barrage against McConnell also complicates the calculation in the Senate GOP caucus, where even Republicans who privately disagree with the former president are loath to cross him publicly. And Trump’s constant drum beat against McConnell this week on the debt ceiling was quickly picked up by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s closest Senate allies, tweeting Friday, “I agree with President Trump that it’s imperative that Senate Republicans do not aid and abet the raising of the debt ceiling.”
Trump would like nothing better than to blow up the debt ceiling debate so he can hang the failure to pass it on McConnell and his allies. The trouble with that is that’s exactly what the Democrats are going to do.
Despite Trump and the Democrat’s machinations, everything — except perhaps the Build Back Better bill — will get passed on time. But unless McConnell can pull a rabbit out of his hat, he isn’t likely to come out of this partisan scrape smelling any better than he did in September.