Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell has devised ways out of a devastating debt default in the past.
This time may be different, at least for now.
Faced with the most risky debt ceiling showdown in a dozen years, Senate Republican leaders plan to play second fiddle and let the newly empowered House Republican majority try to find a way out of the impasse with the White House, a high risk tactic but one. that underscores the new order of power in a divided Washington.
McConnell and his leadership team are wary of appearing to undermine the position of the House GOP and see little chance of success in trying to reach a deal without the explicit blessing of Speaker Kevin McCarthy. About four months before fears of a default escalate dramatically, Senate Republicans say they will sit back and watch the House GOP maneuver to raise the $31.4 trillion borrowing limit, before deciding whether they need to insert themselves. in the process.
Senate GOP leader John Thune, McConnell’s top deputy, said his leadership team wants to give House Republicans “some space” to reach a deal with the White House.
“At least for now, knowing that ultimately it’s going to have to be something that House Republicans and the president agree on, is to see what they can work out,” the South Dakota Republican said Monday. “That’s going to be the best strategy for us.”
Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said some senators may brainstorm ways to find a way out of the standoff. But he quickly added: “Ultimately, I think it’s going to have to be negotiated between the House and the White House.”
“I’m waiting for the House to move and lead, and we will follow,” Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican and another member of McConnell’s leadership team, told CNN.
McConnell declined to elaborate on his thinking on Monday. But he projected confidence that Congress would somehow prevent a first-time default.
“We will not stop paying,” the Kentucky Republican told CNN as he walked into his office.
The initial stance resembles the 2011 battle when a new Republican majority in the House fought tooth and nail with a Democratic president as Republicans tried to use the issue as leverage to enact their priorities, which Senate Democrats were about to overturn. ignore. The fight led to the country’s credit rating being downgraded before a deal was reached to raise the borrowing limit and cut spending on defense and domestic programs, even as some of those cuts were later reversed.
This time, in the lead up to winning the speakers’ vote on the 15th ballot, McCarthy promised his Conservative members that they would only allow a debt ceiling increase if there is a tax deal or if they win “proportionate tax reforms,” although the plan is light. in details. Instead, McCarthy demanded that President Joe Biden sit down and negotiate a deal to increase the debt limit, a position the White House continues to reject. If McCarthy backs down from that demand and proposes a debt ceiling increase without the concessions sought by his members, any lawmaker can seek a vote to remove him from office under the deal he signed to win the job.
“It was done three times in the previous administration of Donald Trump, so it’s nothing unusual,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday, reiterating demands that Congress raise the ceiling on unconditional debt. “This is something that must be done without conditions.”
That position, however, has received some friendly fire.
“It’s not responsible,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said Monday of the White House position. “This is a democracy. We have to talk to each other.”
While the debt ceiling has been raised or suspended 61 times since 1978, it’s not unusual for lawmakers to use the issue as leverage to try to get what they want. But they are often forced to back off, as the debt limit must be raised to pay bills already owed.
In the last Congress, McConnell asked the Democrats, who control the House and the Senate, to raise the debt ceiling with their votes alone, that is, using a budget process that cannot be obstructed and can be passed in a direct line. of party. Democrats opposed that demand.
McConnell then floated another way: pass a new law that would allow Democrats to use a unique process to raise the debt ceiling on their own votes. The Democrats agreed. It was similar to another plan the Republican leader pushed for when Barack Obama was in the White House: Allowing the debt ceiling to be raised even as Congress formally voted to disapprove that measure, an attempt to give lawmakers some distance from politicians. traitor vote.
This time, however, the Republicans are signaling that the Senate GOP is unlikely to drive the party’s strategy.
“Right now, it’s a fight between House Republicans and the president, so I’m not sure we want to be in that fight,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican.
If the impasse does not end, the calculation could change.
Some believe a deal could be reached in the Senate and he would receive 60 votes to break a filibuster, but only if McConnell agrees. At that point, a House vote could occur if 218 members sign a “firing petition” and force a plenary vote in that chamber, meaning at least six Republicans would have to join the 212 Democrats. But that time-consuming process rarely succeeds, and several House Republicans say they won’t go along with that effort, at least not yet.
“That is absolutely the last option,” said Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, a Pennsylvania Republican who hails from a swing district and is working on a bipartisan deal on the issue.