Senate Republicans may be on the verge of helping Democrats raise the debt limit by temporarily changing the rules of the Senate to fast-track the process.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is reportedly seeking at least ten Republicans to agree to a strategy that would permit the Democratic majority to raise the debt limit with a simple majority vote. In a deal struck with Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Republicans would give Democrats enough votes to change the rules, and then Democrats will pass the debt limit increase without Republican support.
A total of 60 votes are required to change the Senate rules, so at least ten Republicans must agree to McConnell's strategy to get it done.
This is all an attempt to circumvent the 60-vote legislative filibuster on a debt-limit increase. Under the plan, the filibuster rules will be suspended for about one month, specifically for the debt limit. Democrats would then be required to raise the debt ceiling by a specific amount, somewhere in the range of $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion, which would forestall another debt limit vote until after next year's elections.
The deal negotiated between McConnell and Schumer would solve two political problems: Raising the debt limit and giving Republicans cover to claim they opposed doing so.
Every time the federal government nears its lawful limit on borrowing to cover its spending obligations, Congress votes to increase debt limit to enable the government to borrow more money. If Congress did not do this, the government would not have enough money to pay its bills and also make interest payments on the national debt.
In a hypothetical scenario where Congress does not raise the debt limit, the federal government would be forced to prioritize its spending such that expenses are not greater than revenues. This could mean drastic cuts to popular programs. It could also risk default, should the government be incapable of making its interest payments on the national debt, which economists warn would have severe economic consequences for the rest of the nation.
Even though Republicans say they are opposed to excessive government borrowing and spending, a significant number of GOP lawmakers always vote for debt limit increases to avoid the political consequences of the government being unable to borrow more money.
If Democrats were able to pass a debt limit increase with a simple majority, this would free every Republican in the minority to vote against the debt limit increase. Democrats win because the government can continue to borrow money to fund President Joe Biden's agenda. Republicans win because they will claim they voted "no" on the debt limit increase, even though ten of them will have to vote with Democrats on the procedural vote to change the rules and enable this strategy.
But will te Republicans go along with McConnell's plan? According to Politico, some of his leading GOP voices in the Senate were receptive to the strategy.
“I’m going to support Democrats raising the debt ceiling without Republican votes,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and longtime McConnell ally said. “To have Democrats raise the debt ceiling and be held accountable for racking up the debt is my goal. And this helps us accomplish it.”
"Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) and Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) also sounded warm on McConnell’s plan at the leadership meeting," Politico reported.
Other moderate Republicans sounded less enthused. And the conservatives in the conference will almost certainly oppose helping the Democratic majority do anything. But Schumer expressed confidence that McConnell will find the votes he needs in an uncharacteristically polite comment about the minority.
“I’m optimistic that we will be able to prevent the awful prospect of the U.S. defaulting,” Schumer said. “I continue to thank all of my colleagues for cooperating in good faith.”