Democrats Could Remove The Debt Ceiling As A Weapon Once And For All

But They Probably Won’t.
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 23: Speaker of the Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (L) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) (R) walk with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at the U.S. Capitol on September 23, 2021 in Washi... WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 23: Speaker of the Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (L) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) (R) walk with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at the U.S. Capitol on September 23, 2021 in Washington, DC. Congress is currently in negotiations to pass a spending bill and raise the debt limit with the threat of a government shutdown looming if a deal is not reached. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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September 29, 2021 5:39 p.m.

Furious Democrats seethe daily about Republican hostage-taking on the debt limit. 

They’re still insisting that the ceiling be suspended through regular order, and that Republicans help them do it.

Instead of these fruitless, if understandable, attempts to shame Republicans for their hypocrisy and recklessness, Democrats could take this opportunity to remove a weaponized debt ceiling from Republicans’ arsenal for good. 

They could either act on Sen. Brian Schatz’s (D-HI) bill to repeal it (which would require reforming the filibuster), or just hike the debt limit up so sky-high in reconciliation that they don’t have to worry about closing in on the ceiling any time soon. (That’s what Denmark, one of the only other countries in the world with a debt ceiling, has done.) Democrats of all stripes, moderate and progressive, are receptive to the idea. 

“I’d be glad to see us get rid of the debt limit,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) told TPM. “It serves no purpose to restrict spending, it just creates opportunities for political gamesmanship and threats to our economy. It’s time to get rid of it.”

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When asked if that feeling is shared among the wider Democratic caucus, she said there’s been “a lot of grumbling.”  

“I think people are saying, we’ve just had enough of this,” she said. “We have been playing these political games for way too long.”

Would those grumblings translate to action, though? “I don’t know,” she admitted. 

There’s difficulty in both pathways to neutralize the debt ceiling for good. 

“There is some discussion about taking this problem out of the system, so to speak, and there’s legislation,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) told TPM, pointing to Schatz’s bill.

He had not, though, heard Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) or Joe Manchin (D-WV) express any interest in reforming the filibuster to give that bill a chance at life. Schatz, speaking with TPM, pegged his hopefulness level on the issue at “medium.” 

As is becoming increasingly evident this term, what 48 of the Democratic senators want means very little in comparison to what Sinema and Manchin don’t want.

And Democrats are reluctant to deal with the debt ceiling through reconciliation at all, something Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has essentially ordered them to do.

Action in the evenly-split chamber is always uncertain, predicated as it is on agreement among all 50 members, including the agenda-stymying Manchin and Sinema. But consensus is at least broad that the debt ceiling is a fairly silly measure that’s only ever earnestly weaponized by Republicans. 

“I have traditionally thought that the debt ceiling makes no sense at all,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD)  told TPM. “I would certainly favor getting rid of the debt ceiling. The policy decisions are made when you determine how much you’re gonna spend or collect.”

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