Exclusive video of Senate debt limit negotiations. Get Mitch out of that box!

Senate Republicans' game of chicken with a government shutdown and a possible default on the federal debt continues today; if a stopgap funding bill isn't passed by the end of Thursday, the government will shut down, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned Congress yesterday that if the federal debt limit isn't increased, the government will be all out of money to pay its bills on about October 18. Monday, Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would have averted both crises, and then yesterday, they did so again.

The shutdown is probably the easier to avoid; all Democrats have to do is remove the provision suspending the debt limit, and enough Republicans in the Senate will vote for the bill. But the debt limit, an arbitrary restriction on the government's ability to borrow to pay for spending it's already done, is harder, because Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell not only won't allow any Republicans to vote to raise it; he also won't agree to let Democrats pass it with 50 votes plus VP Kamala Harris's tie-breaking vote.

So instead, Democrats will probably have to pass the debt limit using the budget reconciliation process, which as we've discussed before, they can do with a stand-alone bill and just 51 votes in the Senate. (Let's stop your objection in its tracks. Reconciliation can be used three times a year, once for taxing, once for spending, and once for the debt limit. Using reconciliation for the debt limit doesn't use up the "tax and spend" reconciliations which would be used to pass Joe Biden's Build Back Better agenda.)

Unfortunately, as Politico reports, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer keeps saying he won't do that, at least not yet. Why? Honestly, we don't effing know. WHY NOT, CHUCK?


Schumer concluded on Tuesday afternoon that "going through reconciliation is risky to the country and is a non-starter." Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Schumer's position is "shared by many members" but declined to say if she supports the idea or aligns herself directly with Schumer: "We'll see what our options are."
Now, yes, reconciliation is a cumbersome process; it would require consultation with the Senate parliamentarian, and it would be subject to a tiresome "vote-a-rama" in which Republicans could spend hours and hours adding amendments, each of which would have to be voted down. But from the Politico story, at least, we still don't entirely see why Schumer isn't willing to go ahead, swallow the frog, and just get the process rolling now so the nation won't risk a default.
Schumer has been walking his caucus through how cumbersome it could be to use the arcane budget process to raise the debt ceiling and the many pitfalls ahead if leaders choose to follow that route. [...]

Schumer has warned his caucus that the gambit would be "burdensome and untenable," according to one of the Democrats.

"Using reconciliation is a non-starter. We have gone through it twice, I've listened, and it takes him about 15 minutes for Chuck Schumer to explain how that works, what it involves. Three or four weeks of activity in the House and Senate," said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

So it would be more work than just passing a regular bill, the way the GOP suspended the debt limit — with unanimous Democratic support — when Donald Trump was president. We get that. What we don't get is why Schumer thinks it would be any easier to shame 10 Republicans into voting to raise or suspend the limit now, or at any point before the government defaults on its debt.

And sure, it would mean McConnell got what he wanted: forcing Democrats to be the responsible ones. But so what? The debt limit could be raised, default avoided, and the economy would be saved until the next time Republicans decide to hold the world economy hostage.

For fun, Vox has a nice overview of some creative measures Democrats — or Joe Biden on his own — could take to get rid of the debt limit once and for all. We rather like this One Weird Trick suggested by Georgetown Law prof David Super (thanks for asking), who told the Washington Post Democrats could use a reconciliation bill to flat out eliminate the need for another debt limit fight.

"The Congressional Budget Act gives Democrats the chance to do a stand-alone reconciliation bill on the debt limit if they want," Super told us. He noted Democrats could effectively repeal the debt limit by, say, writing language tying it to covering whatever the national debt is at any given moment.

This, Super says, would be "faithful to the purpose of the debt limit, which allows the United States to meet its lawful obligations."

Of course, that would require an OK from the Senate parliamentarian, so perhaps it's best to hold in reserve for a time when America isn't staring default in the face.

Now, the good news in the Politico story is that, for all Schumer's insistence that raising the debt limit through reconciliation won't fly, the article also notes,

Privately, however, Democrats say congressional leaders are not ruling it out as it may be the only way around the Senate GOP.

Schumer appears to think there's some political advantage in framing Republicans as irresponsible maniacs willing to toy with economic catastrophe. But we're more inclined to agree with WaPo's Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent, who argue that the American public "doesn't care about the debt limit." At least not for more than a few days every couple years when Republicans pretend that refusing to pay the nation's bills is some sort of principled stand.

And since Republicans are so willing to take radical stances for the sake of slowing down Joe Biden's agenda, then why not do everything possible to get past this stupid arbitrary fight and actually pass the Build Back Better reconciliation bill, so Democrats have a real achievement to run on in 2022 and 2024?

[Politico / WaPo / Vox]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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