As Debt Limit Deadline Nears, No Deal Appears Close

By Brian Freeman

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell do not appear to be anywhere near an agreement on raising the federal debt limit, even though there are just a few weeks remaining until the Dec. 15 deadline to do so, The Hill reported on Monday.

Although both leaders apparently want to avoid threatening the nation’s credit rating and have stepped back from the combative rhetoric they were using a few months ago, the problem is that there are not any easy ways forward to which both parties can agree. 

The debt ceiling limits how much the government can borrow to pay its bills. Congress has passed almost 100 debt ceiling modifications since the end of World War II, in what used to be a routine bipartisan procedure that legislators have recently turned into a political cudgel, according to NBC News.

Even though there is widespread agreement among experts that a default would have catastrophic repercussions for the economy, the two parties disagree on how to do it.

McConnell has insisted that Democrats deal with the issue on their own since they are pushing for a large social safety net spending bill without Republican support.

But Schumer has ruled out using the arcane budget reconciliation process again, as the GOP has suggested, saying the procedure should be bipartisan, pointing out that a debt limit hike would be needed even if there was not a Build Back Better Act, NBC News reported.

Brian Darling, a Republican strategist and former Senate aide, said that a temporary solution in which McConnell would gather 10 GOP votes to get the measure over a 60-vote procedural threshold, as he did in October, is unlikely, The Hill reported.

“I think McConnell and Republicans really have to dig in and get something for it,” he said. “They can’t just let it go after what happened in the last go-around. McConnell is already getting criticized quite a bit for caving the last time on the debt limit,” with Darling adding that “the debt limit is the only leverage Republicans have this whole Congress. If they give it away and get nothing for it, it’s going to be a huge embarrassment.” 

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Senate Minority Whip John Thune suggested a few months ago that Republicans could permit debt limit legislation to go ahead in exchange for setting up future spending reforms, saying that “if  they had a realistic way of getting a [2011 Budget Control Act] -type approach to it, that would be great. There are a number of budget reforms that our members I think would be supportive in the context of a vote on the debt limit.”

The overall impasse is sparking predictions that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will find a way to delay the deadline for increasing the nation’s borrowing authority until January or February, with GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, saying the current Dec. 15 deadline is “not a terribly credible drop-dead date.”

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