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McConnell Makes New Offer On Debt Ceiling

October 6, 2021 by Dan McCue
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON — Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. made a new offer to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., on resolving the current Senate impasse over raising the nation’s debt limit.

The immediate effect of the offer was for Senate Democrats to delay a vote Wednesday afternoon on a House-passed bill to suspend the debt limit until after the 2022 election. The measure was expected to be blocked by Senate Republicans.

McConnell first announced his inclination at a Republican conference lunch Wednesday afternoon.

As the lunch broke up, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, told reporters who were staking out the lunch that the proposal, which she refrained from revealing, would “give us a way out of the woods.”

The Hill was the first media outlet to report Murkowski’s remarks.

Later, McConnell put out a written statement in which he said his members had “already made it clear” they would assist in “expediting the 304 reconciliation process for stand-alone debt limit legislation.”

In other words, the Republican leader was saying he’s ready to let the Democrats raise the debt limit through budget reconciliation, the procedural maneuver which allows for budget-related items to pass with a simple majority. 

The Democrats used a budget reconciliation bill for the current fiscal year to lay the groundwork for passing the American Rescue Plan. 

At the time, it was believed that budget reconciliation could be used only once per fiscal year, but Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled that Section 304 of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 can allow for multiple reconciliation bills per fiscal year.

That opened the door to the proposed $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package that is now being revised in Congress.

McConnell now appears to be saying Republicans will agree not to filibuster raising the debt ceiling to a fixed amount for a limited time.

“To protect the American people from a near-term Democrat-created crisis, we will also 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,” McConnell said. 

“This will moot Democrats’ excuses about the time crunch they created and give the unified Democratic government more than enough time to pass standalone debt limit legislation through reconciliation,” he said.

In the alternative, McConnell said, if the Democrats abandoned the pending budget reconciliation package — something he dismissed as an “historically reckless taxing and spending spree” — he said “a more traditional bipartisan government conversation could be possible.”

It’s unclear whether McConnell and Schumer had been discussing a deal before the Republican made his announcement.

Schumer did not immediately comment on McConnell’s offer.

Then again, the offer was accompanied by a slam from the Republican leader:

“The unified Democratic government had two and a half months to address the debt limit through reconciliation. Instead, they drifted to the doorstep of yet another self-created Democrat crisis,” McConnell said. “Whether through miscalculation or a deliberate effort to bully their own members into wrecking the Senate, top Democrats have risked adding a default crisis to the inflation crisis, border crisis, and Afghanistan crisis they have already created.”

Much of the talk on Capitol Hill earlier in the day had centered on the fate of the filibuster.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a moderate who opposes doing away with the filibuster and can block any effort to make it happen, told reporters on Tuesday that “nothing had changed” in his position.

On Wednesday, he also ruled out creating an exception to the filibuster to allow the Democrats in the Senate to move forward with the House plan without Republican support.

Instead he implored both leaders to start working on a deal. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said earlier this week that the nation will default on its debts on Oct. 18 — an historical first — if the debt ceiling isn’t raised. If that happens, she’s said, a recession rivaling the one that gripped the nation in 2008 will surely follow.

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