GOP, Dems dig in as government funding, debt limit deadlines approach

Time is running out for Congress to pass legislation to avert a government shutdown at the end of this month — but both parties have dug in over language in the measure that raises Washington’s borrowing limit.

Top Republicans, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have dared Democrats to increase the so-called “debt ceiling” by themselves using reconciliation, which allows certain budget-related legislation to pass the Senate with 51 votes rather than the traditional 60.

McConnell has warned that most, if not all, of his conference will oppose the Democrat-led resolution, which would fund the government through Dec. 3 and raise the debt ceiling through December of next year — in addition to providing $10 billion for emergency disaster aid to “cover losses from natural disasters occurring in 2020 and 2021.”

On the Senate floor Wednesday, McConnell stated that his members will not give the green light to “inflationary spending” as Democratic lawmakers try to hammer out a sweeping $3.5 trillion social spending bill they hope to push through Congress without Republican support.

“You might think the disastrous consequences of Democrats’ last spending binge for working Americans might give our colleagues some pause about their next one. No such luck. Behind closed doors, they’re putting together another, even more reckless taxing and spending spree,” McConnell said.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has called for a debt ceiling increase.
Virginia Mayo, File/AP

“They want to take the last bill, which Democrats called the most left-wing law in American history, and dwarf even that,” he added. “Massive tax hikes on Americans that will hurt families and help China. A socialist transformation that nobody voted for. Another invitation for even more painful inflation that will hit working Americans where it hurts. The American people don’t want it. And Senate Republicans won’t support it.”

Democratic leaders have insisted that raising the debt limit should be done in a bipartisan fashion, linking the two issues in legislation that passed along party lines Tuesday with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) teeing up a vote on the measure next week. Leading Democrats have argued that the increase is necessary to pay for the Trump administration’s spending and noting that Democrats supported raising the debt ceiling multiple times while Congress and the White House were under Republican control.

“Republicans face a choice: Vote yes to pay our bills and keep the government open, or vote no, which means you’re OK with default and a government shutdown. Every single Democrat will support this bill. Whether or not we avoid default is simply, entirely, up to the Republican senators,” Schumer said on the floor Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has put the onus on Republicans to help pass the measure.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

“It’s up to them, plain and simple. The president has a proposal. The House has passed a proposal. I will put that proposal on the Senate floor. And remember: This is not just a political fight. The last time Republicans played with the debt ceiling in 2011, the credit of the United States was downgraded for the first time ever. And all indications are that if Republicans succeed in causing a default this time around, the consequences would be catastrophic.”

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has repeatedly called on Congress to increase the debt limit, writing in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Sunday that “the overwhelming consensus among economists and Treasury officials of both parties is that failing to raise the debt limit would produce widespread economic catastrophe.” Two former Republican Treasury secretaries —  Henry Paulson and Steven Mnuchin — have urged McConnell to support the increase, warning that a default could have grave consequences on the economy, the Washington Post first reported.

But Republicans have remained firm in their position, asserting that the Biden administration should explore other options to avoid a default.

“Treasury has a lot of options; they always sound the alarm, which they should, but I think there’s time. I’d like to go ahead myself and pass the continuing resolution to fund the government,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) told reporters.

Sen. Bill Cassidy has not said how he'll be voting on the measure.
Sen. Bill Cassidy has not said how he’ll be voting on the measure.
. Scott Applewhite/AP

A handful of GOP senators have not ruled out backing the measure. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), whose state was heavily impacted by the recent landfall of Hurricane Ida, has said he is likely to vote in favor of the legislation due to its disaster relief provision.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) also have not indicated how they will vote on the measure. But even if all three Republicans offer their support, Democrats are still significantly short of the 10 GOP votes needed to pass the measure in the upper chamber.

While Republicans are calling for a standalone government funding bill, House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) has warned that there may not be enough time for Democrats to rewrite the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill to include debt ceiling language in time to prevent the country from defaulting — an assertion Republicans have denied.