Questions about raising the debt ceiling have been brewing for months. But they have taken on growing urgency as Senate Republicans continue to obstruct increased debt even as the default deadline draws near.
Senatorial Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Democrats should raise the cap on their own, but he also closed all avenues for them to do so except one: an amended reconciliation bill that would occupy a good chunk of the world. Senate speaking time before Democrats can go through party line votes.
Democrats in Congress disagree on whether they have enough time to do it and the next steps. The party tried to push through an increase in the debt ceiling alongside a move to fund the government last week. But it was obstruction of Senate Republicans.
On Tuesday, Democrats asked for unanimous consent to pass an increase in the debt ceiling through a simple majority vote. Republicans also opposed this, further angering White House officials who were already angered by their refusal to line up with a vote they were trying to present as almost pro forma.
Biden coordinated his approach with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, but publicly referred to Congressional leaders on how to break the deadlock. On Monday evening, they discussed the possibility of raising the debt ceiling through budget reconciliation, which White House officials had said they were reluctant to do.
Another option: the Senate could vote to change its own rules so that a bill that increases or suspends the debt ceiling is not filibustered. Lawmakers have made similar changes to the rules for the confirmation of judicial candidates and Cabinet officials. But the 50 Democrats would have to support such a measure as well as the approval of Vice President Kamala Harris. Biden’s opposition to such a change would effectively doom him.
For now, Republicans, who argue they want to see the debt ceiling raised – and believe it will be done, but not by them – argue Democrats have had weeks to prepare to go it alone. GOP leaders have also broadened their political and process arguments, suggesting that if Democrats are comfortable using reconciliation to pass a massive social spending bill on their own, they should do the same on the debt ceiling.
“We obviously wanted to do it in a bipartisan fashion,” Psaki told reporters on Tuesday. “We also hope that if Senator McConnell doesn’t help us avoid a default and a shutdown, at least he will step aside and let the Democrats do it on their own.”