Democratic leadership on Monday tied suspending the debt ceiling to keeping the government funded.
The two will be wrapped together in the same continuing resolution, challenging Republicans to either vote for it, or risk sparking a government shutdown and economic global catastrophe stemming from the United States defaulting on its debts. The government funding would last through December of 2021, and the suspended debt ceiling through December 2022.
“Addressing the debt limit is about meeting obligations the government has already made, like the bipartisan emergency COVID relief legislation from December as well as vital payments to Social Security recipients and our veterans,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wrote. “Furthermore, as the Administration warned last week, a reckless Republican-forced default could plunge the country into a recession.”
The Democrats added, pointedly, that suspending the debt limit through December 2022 would be a period commensurate with the debt incurred by the COVID relief package that was written by Republicans and signed into law in December 2020 by former President Donald Trump.
President Joe Biden endorsed the plan Monday afternoon.
The Democratic leaders are calling Republicans’ bluff, or at least making them go on the record with their abdication of responsibility. Congressional Republicans have played games with the debt ceiling before in an attempt to extract concessions from the Obama administration. While they never followed through on ultimately refusing to raise the debt ceiling, such antics in 2011 resulted in a downgrade of the United States’ credit rating.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has made the media rounds in his eagerness to put raising the debt ceiling squarely on Democrats’ shoulders. He made remarks from the Senate floor Monday afternoon.
“Senate Republicans would support a clean continuing resolution that included appropriate disaster relief and targeted Afghan assistance,” he said. “We will not support legislation that raises the debt limit.”
In an ironic pivot, he also chided Democrats for putting “partisan wish lists” over “basic government duties.”
If Republicans torpedo the bill, though, Democrats do have another option to avert catastrophe. Though Democratic leadership is loath to do it, they could address the debt ceiling in the reconciliation package — something McConnell has clearly been gunning for from the start. It would inflate the package’s topline cost, already a tension point with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and threaten its passage.
That backup option, and the knowledge that Democrats have historically been less inclined to flirt with complete economic collapse to score some political points, will likely give Republicans a comfortable escape route from voting for the continuing resolution.