Another debt ceiling fight looms as Biden reveals spending plans
By Naomi Lim | Washington Examiner
President Joe Biden has dished on his closed-door negotiations with congressional Democrats over his $2 trillion social welfare and climate spending package.
But the White House and Capitol Hill’s lack of public clarity regarding how Democrats plan to contend with the looming debt limit have observers rattled to frustrated.
Biden conceded that his social spending package will likely include four weeks of paid family medical leave instead of his proposed 12 and an $800 voucher for dental care rather than expanded dental, vision, and hearing Medicare coverage, among other programs, during a televised town hall.
But his administration’s insistence that Democrats and Republicans raise or suspend the debt ceiling together before the Treasury Department predicts the country will default on its roughly $28 trillion loan in December has onlookers like GOP Senate budget and appropriations expert Bill Hoagland worried because Republicans have been adamantly against a statutory increase.
For Hoagland, now a senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center, the concern is that if Democrats are not prepared to revise the budget resolution so they can deploy the simple majority procedure known as reconciliation to lift or suspend the debt limit, then the next step could be changing the rules of the Senate to permit them to do so with the 51 votes they have with Vice President Kamala Harris.
“Long story short, I’m saying that I am nervous that by not using reconciliation, we are headed toward a real possibility that we’ll simply do as we’ve done with Supreme Court justices and federal appointees: do away with the filibuster,” he said.
Hoagland’s unease is not unfounded. Biden equivocated on the debt ceiling during the town hall, telling voters in Baltimore that “we’re going to have to move to the point where we fundamentally alter the filibuster.”
“The idea that, for example, my Republican friends say that we’re going to default on the national debt because they’re going to filibuster that and we need 10 Republicans to support us is the most bizarre thing I ever heard,” Biden said. “But it still is difficult to end the filibuster, beyond that.”
Hoagland admitted he was “surprised” Democrats did not reconcile the debt limitwhen they passed the budget resolution paving the way for Biden’s social spending package. That means to enhance the country’s borrowing capacity by themselves through reconciliation, they are first required to clear a revised budget blueprint.
A Senate aide told the Washington Examiner that Democrats’ still prefer to collaborate with Republicans, as they did this month when the Treasury Department forecast an Oct. 18 “Date X.” But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been criticized for relenting and extending the debt ceiling until Dec. 3 with Democrats through a stand-alone bill, as has been done in the past. Republicans were also incensed by what they complained was Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s ungrateful floor speech.
Democrats also believe reconciliation is too cumbersome because of lawmakers’ ability to attach pesky amendments to the measure, the staffer said.
Hoagland disagreed. Revised budget resolution debate is cut off at 15 hours evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, he said.
“Yes, there could be a ‘voter-a-rama,’ but those don’t last. You can control that,” he added. “They do have a case that maybe in ‘voter-a-rama’ there would be some message amendments that could create mischief for political purposes. But listen, this is a political town. What do you expect?”
But as Democratic disarray regarding Biden’s spending package enters a new phase as Democrats near a final framework, a Republican aide underscored Senate Democratic Caucus’s disagreement over whether to use reconciliation for the debt limit.
“If Republicans won’t help, we’ll do it on our own. We can do it through reconciliation,” said Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, the 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, an informal Biden adviser since the 2020 South Carolina primary, is one of the House Democrats imploring Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to deal with the issue through reconciliation.
“That’s something that I would hope we would consider,” he said.
The White House has remained mum concerning contingency plans should Republicans not engage with Democrats on the debt ceiling and Democrats decline to rely on reconciliation.
“We don’t want it to be a political football anymore in the future,” press secretary Jen Psaki said. “But right now, we’re focused on working with Congress to raise the debt limit.”
Cooler heads will prevail, and the debt ceiling will be addressed, though probably not until right before it needs to be, according to former Democratic strategist Sandy Maisel, now a Colby College emeritus politics professor.
“But what this entire process says about our public officials’ ability to work with each other and to solve national problems is most disturbing,” he said.