What's Up With The Debt Ceiling? What Channel Is The Debt Ceiling? When Does The Debt Ceiling Start?

Congress

With the US just 11 days away from defaulting on its debts, the Senate has reached a deal to temporarily raise the debt ceiling until sometime in early December so we can go through the same stupid fight all over again in two months. The deal was announced by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer this morning while we were writing the first draft of this story and joking that an actual deal would probably be announced two minutes after we clicked "publish." We were so close! CNBC has the deets:

The agreement allows the debt limit to increase by $480 billion, according to people familiar with the deal, a sum the Treasury Department estimates will allow it to pay bills until Dec. 3.

Yesterday afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed the temporary extension of the debt limit, although it's hardly a terrific deal. But by heading off a possible default, it will at least prevent a meltdown of the world economy, at least until the new limit draws closer.

So did McConnell blink? Or was it just some weird turtle reflex? McConnell and Senate Republicans have been playing chicken with the economy and people's lives for weeks now by refusing to cooperate on raising the debt limit, which is usually a routine part of governing. But because McConnell sees a political advantage in portraying Democrats as fiscally irresponsible with next year's midterms coming up, he's not only refused to let the bill pass with a bipartisan vote, he's also refused to allow 10 Republicans to vote for "cloture," which would let Democrats pass the bill with only 50 votes, plus a tie-breaker vote by Vice President Kamala Harris.


We're inclined to think McConnell may have begun to realize that threatening to crash the economy over nothing wasn't a good look, judging by the weapons-grade bullshit he deployed in his statement, insisting that the delay he'd caused was all Democrats' doing, but lucky for America, he was generously willing to save America from default.

Let's decode McConnell's ransom note, shall we? He said that, to "protect the American people from a near-term Democrat-created crisis" — again, a crisis that exists solely because of McConnell — Republicans would "allow Democrats to use normal procedures to pass an emergency debt limit extension at a fixed dollar amount to cover current spending levels into December."

Translation: Instead of suspending the debt limit, the way Republicans did for four years with Democratic cooperation while Donald Trump was in office, the temporary extension won't be for two months, but will be a new ceiling with a definite number — that $480 billion — that Republicans can use in campaign ads. Beyond that, McConnell made clear he still wants those terrible irresponsible Dems to use the reconciliation process, which Schumer has opposed because it takes a long time and would still be subject to Republican delays, and because it too would have to have a definite number instead of a timeframe. [Wonkette Editrix Rebecca is still irked that Democrats won't just bite the bullet and do it on their own, because "waah unfair we have to SAY A NUMBER," and "waah they will do ADS AGAINST US" both strike her as SHUT UP AND GOVERN. You're perfectly willing to do Build Back Better on a party line vote, just BE MEN AND WOMEN ABOUT IT, MY GOD.]

Under Senate rules, reconciliation can be used once a year to increase the debt ceiling, so using reconciliation for the debt limit wouldn't prevent Democrats from also passing the Build Back Better reconciliation bill,. That's the big ball of New Deal that would expand social benefits and tax relief to the middle class, and begin fighting global warming by starting the transition to clean energy.

McConnell had ideas about that, too! He generously offered Democrats the option of a long-term extension of the debt limit if they'd simply scrap Build Back Better. Mitch really knows his Bible, we guess — he was willing to let Democrats exchange Joe Biden's entire legislative agenda for a mess of pottage.

The New York Times reports that the main reason McConnell offered the two-month extension was far less grandiose: Not only did the proposal blunt criticism of GOP intransigence,

It also put off, for the time being, the prospect that Democrats might change the filibuster rules to allow themselves to go around Republicans and raise the debt ceiling unilaterally. It was that possibility, some G.O.P. senators said on Wednesday, that had motivated Mr. McConnell to seek a deal.

Now, there are plenty of reasons not to like the short-term extension of the debt ceiling. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki pointed out yesterday that it would be a hell of a lot simpler for Republicans to simply choose not to filibuster a debt ceiling suspension bill that's already on the table, "so we can move on to more business for the American people."

Why kick the can down the road a couple more weeks? Why create an additional layer of uncertainty? Why not just get it done now? That's what we're continuing to press for and that's our first choice.

Schumer had planned another debt ceiling vote yesterday, but held off on it once McConnell announced his proposal. The bill for the short-term extension is expected to pass in the Senate today, and then move rapidly through the House and on to Biden for his signature.

Sen. Chris Murphy told the New York Times yesterday that Democrats are "willing to take this offer in order to stave off fiscal ruin," but added that Democrats are "are all beside ourselves that the only thing Republicans are willing to do is prevent disaster for three months and put us right back in this position." Two months, Senator. It's October now. We guess he was including the month that McConnell has already spent blocking any progress.

So where do we go from here? Now that the immediate crisis is averted (the Dow increased by 540 points after the agreement was announced), the options look about the same as they were yesterday: 1) Hope 10 Republicans will break ranks and allow a vote on the goddamn bill, which is pretty unlikely; 2) when the next deadline gets close, actually get rid of the filibuster for debt ceiling bills, which would largely amount to ending the legislative filibuster (which you know Republicans will do if they take the Senate anyway, no matter how much Joe Manchin sighs about tradition and bipartisanship); 3) Raise the debt ceiling by reconciliation between now and December, even though that would involve a definite upper debt limit number that Republicans would wave around in 2022 midterm elections while claiming that Democrats are spending America into the Apocalypse.

For our money (hey, because taxes, some of it is our money), we still think 3 is the best option, even if it gives McConnell a pointless "win," because it solves the problem. The short-term increase already has a number, and it's not like Republicans won't just lie about Democrats anyway while pulling numbers out of their asses.

Put the work into Build Back Better, make sure the benefits get to voters as soon as possible in 2022, and sell the hell out of the success while pointing out that Republicans are trying to end democracy and want you to die of COVID.

Then if Dems can solidify their majority in the Senate, how about we kill the filibuster and repeal the debt limit altogether? It's a stupid pointless relic of World War I that has never done a damn bit of good to prevent deficit spending, so send it to the trash, please.

[CNBC / NYT / CBS News / TPM / NYT]

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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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