News & Politics

Republicans 'Ice Cold' On Idea to Combine Debt Limit With Defense Authorization Bill

Drew Angerer/Pool via AP

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) must be passed before the end of the year. And the increase in the debt limit must also be passed before the end of the year — or sooner.

So the Democrats came up with a scathingly brilliant idea: why not combine the two? This way, Democrats would be able to force Republicans to vote for the debt limit, even though they’ve sworn not to.

Democrats are desperate to find a way to force Republicans to share the political burden of voting to increase the debt limit. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has tried every parliamentary trick in the book to get the Republicans to sign on and vote for it. Republicans have insisted that if the Democrats are going to massively increase the debt with their pandemic relief and Build Back Better bills, they should agree to raise the debt ceiling by themselves.

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That argument ignores the reality that there was plenty of debt added during the Trump administration that the Democrats say they voted for. Now, in the interest of bipartisanship, Republicans should return the favor.

But the gimmick of attaching the increase in the debt ceiling to the NDAA is a non-starter with most Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy summed up GOP opposition.


House leaders are currently weighing three options for moving forward on the defense policy bill and the debt limit, according to a senior Democratic aide. The first option would separate the two pieces of legislation — anchored by House Democrats’ passage of a stand-alone bill that would allow the Senate to fast-track a debt ceiling hike on its side of the building.

The second and third options would ultimately move the two bills as a single piece of legislation. In any of those three scenarios, the legislation would likely need at least 10 GOP votes to advance, an outcome that appears unlikely for the second and third options.

It’s not going to work. There are enough Republicans opposing the combined debt ceiling and NDAA that it would be doomed in the Senate.

Still, multiple others in the GOP are ice-cold to the prospect.

“It would be misinterpreted that Republican support for the [defense policy bill] would also include” supporting a hike in the debt limit, said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a top McConnell consigliere. “That’s why I think the message could be muddled. I don’t like the idea.”

Senate Republicans have long insisted that if Democrats want to suspend the debt limit they must do so on their own, a protest against the price tag of the majority party’s forthcoming social spending bill. Democrats counter that suspending the debt limit along party lines would set a problematic precedent and note that a significant amount of the debt that’s causing the current problem was incurred under the Trump administration.

Unless Schumer and McConnell can have a meeting of the minds on both bills and — more importantly — convince the partisans in their caucus that both bills must pass, it will be a very glum Christmas for a lot of people.