COMPASS: Senate GOP sets up a funhouse mirror to raise the debt ceiling

December 13th, 2021

Good afternoon from Capitol Hill.

Both the House and Senate are in session this week as both chambers try to clear the decks to get out of dodge before the holiday. They are one step closer to that goal after contorting themselves into a procedural pretzel in order to appear to raise the debt ceiling “with only Democrat votes.”

The debt ceiling, which is the country’s borrowing limit, needs to be raised by roughly $2 trillion by Wednesday to a grand total of around $30 trillion in order to keep the country out of default. After providing Democrats the votes to do this on a short term basis in October, Senate Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, declared they would not help a second time.

But the hard truth never changed: the establishments in both parties want the debt ceiling raised, despite McConnell’s assertions to the contrary. Rather than have the guts to simply admit that fact, McConnell devised a layered procedural rigamarole to hide his intentions while appearing to put Democrats on the hook for the $2 trillion raise.

To set up this funhouse mirror, McConnell and Co. created a one-time, 51-vote filibuster carve-out to allow Democrats to raise the debt ceiling on their own – a gimmick first passed by the House, and then agreed to in the Senate by 14 Republicans.

To be clear, this is an astoundingly stupid self-own. Democrats have, for the better part of a year, been demanding exactly this type of filibuster carve-out for their partisan election takeover legislation, and other “worthy” items. Republicans have now agreed to their premise: the legislative filibuster can be subject to carve-outs for specific items.

The move was also roundly ill-considered for a second reason: it wasn’t even necessary. There were already 60 votes in the Senate to raise the debt ceiling, as was evidenced in the October vote, and the 14 Republicans who voted for cloture to set up the current, procedurally layered, filibuster-busting obfuscating monstrosity.

The lengths Senate Republicans will go to in order to hide their true intentions, obscure an honest vote from voters – and erode the legislative filibuster to do it – never cease to amaze. I explained more of how the procedural process worked for the Washington Examiner. 

Conservative Movement Leaders came out against the maneuver, and even Donald Trump expressed his frustration. It is expected that the Senate will use this procedural boondoggle to raise the debt ceiling this week.

Meanwhile, negotiations on Biden’s massive, cradle-to-grave social spending expansion, known as Build Back Better, look to have hit yet another stumbling block. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) continues to express consternation about the size and scope of the legislation, particularly now that the Congressional Budget Office has said the legislation will add around $3 trillion to the deficit over 10 years.

Senate Democrats issued an early draft over the weekend, but its provisions are still subject to the parliamentarian’s “Byrd Bath” – a scrub of the text to ensure each provision is in compliance with the Senate’s Byrd Rule. It is likely some of the provisions contained in the draft will be spiked during that process.

While Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer continues to state his intention to clear the bill before the Senate heads home for Christmas, it is looking increasingly likely that the BBB gets booted to January.

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One More Thing…

If you haven’t caught up on CPI senior fellow Cleta Mitchell’s podcast on election integrity, “Who’s Counting,” catch new episodes here.