After a weeks-long standstill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Wednesday offered Democrats an option to temporarily raise the nation’s debt ceiling, potentially buying lawmakers some time to negotiate the terms of a broader resolution as the government inches closer to a default in less than two weeks.
In a statement, the top Senate Republican, who’s blocked multiple measures addressing the debt limit, said he would allow Democrats to pass an emergency debt limit extension to cover current spending levels into December.
He said the stopgap measure should give Democrats “more than enough time to pass stand-alone debt limit legislation” through a special budgetary process called reconciliation, which would bypass Republican support by requiring only a simple majority of votes in favor.
Earlier Wednesday, McConnell reiterated that the GOP wouldn’t support efforts to raise or suspend the debt ceiling for another year, pledging to vote against a House-passed bill on the matter later Wednesday.
McConnell also said a “traditional bipartisan” conversation would be possible only if Democrats “abandon their efforts to ram through another historically reckless taxing and spending spree,” referring to the multi-trillion-dollar spending package Democrats have proposed passing through reconciliation.
The move could serve to temper some concerns from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who last week struck down the possibility of using reconciliation because the “drawn-out, unpredictable process” risked taking too long, given that the Treasury stands to run out of cash by October 18.
“The unified Democratic government had two and a half months to address the debt limit through reconciliation—instead, they drifted to the doorstop of yet another self-created Democrat crisis,” McConnell said Wednesday. “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 created.”
What We Don’t Know
Despite McConnell’s new offer, it’s still unclear whether Democrats will push to raise or suspend the debt limit on their own. After the House’s passage of its stand-alone debt ceiling bill, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said party leaders had ruled out using reconciliation to tackle the national debt, instead pushing for a bipartisan vote. “When President Trump was President, we Democrats supported lifting the debt ceiling because it’s the responsible thing to do,” Pelosi said. “I would hope that the Republicans would act in a similarly responsible way.”
The United States reached its debt limit of $28.5 trillion in late July and has since been taking “extraordinary measures,” such as stopping investments in federal pension programs, to prevent the government from defaulting on its financial obligations. Though Republicans voted to raise or suspend the debt limit three times under former President Donald Trump, the party has rejected Democrat-led efforts to act on debt this year, citing concerns over lofty government spending during the pandemic.