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‘Cursed if you do, damned if you don’t’: Debt-plagued dems déjà vu

“We are unfortunately ready for another cliff – frankly, steeper -. And that’s not my preference, ”said Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.). Although she does not want to set the precedent to bail out the minority party from the debt ceiling issue, Slotkin admitted that the reconciliation “could end where it is.”

That’s news for most Senate Democrats who don’t call themselves Joe Manchin or Tim Kaine, two outliers in an upper house caucus that resolutely opposes the fight against debt without GOP votes. through reconciliation. There is growing clamor to change Senate rules to cripple the influence of minority parties over the borrowing cap, which Manchin currently opposes. And the reality among the slim Democratic majorities is that while all corners of the party are worried about the next conflict, no one knows how it will play out.

Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.), A centrist like Murphy, said Schumer’s message to McConnell should be simple and consistent: “You wanna play these damn games with the economy?” … It’s yours.

“I am strictly opposed to this being done on reconciliation. I think it’s stupid. I think it’s bad, ”Tester said in an interview last week before the debt ceiling compromise. He added that “the problem with the filibuster exception is, for all intents and purposes, that the filibuster would be done” if a debt exclusion were created.

“And the second thing is you still have a Manchin-Sinema problem” with getting 50 votes to change the rules of the chamber, Tester said, referring to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona).

Democratic leaders hate the idea of ​​using reconciliation for the debt ceiling for two main reasons: because that’s what McConnell wants and because it would set a precedent for future majorities to raise the ceiling themselves. . Future Republican majorities would no doubt find it difficult to avoid the default with only GOP votes under this precedent, given their party’s divisions on the issue.

McConnell said he would no longer help Democrats in December; he barely provided 11 votes to push forward a debt ceiling increase and suffered major backlash in his conference for offering Schumer a last-second lifeline. This leaves Democrats with no solution to what will become their biggest problem in two short months, a puzzle mingled with their mad rush to finalize President Joe Biden’s national agenda and maintain government funding.

“It won’t be more difficult to resolve in December. It won’t be any easier. But we reorganized our priorities, ”Kaine said. The Virginian insisted Democrats would not allow a default.

Among House Democrats, there is a certain fatigue of being caught between Schumer and McConnell. President Nancy Pelosi hasn’t ruled out using reconciliation to fix the problem, and her number 2, majority leader Steny Hoyer, said this week he supports the idea.

Most moderates in the House were clear from the start on their main goal in bringing the debt drama to a close: voting once to end the crisis. The opposite has happened.

First House Democrats passed a government funding bill that also raised the debt ceiling mid-term, which McConnell rejected. Then they passed a net increase in the debt ceiling that Republicans were supposed to filibuster but ultimately not forced to reject.

Ultimately, House Democrats had to eat a short-term extension – and a guarantee that they will have to revisit an issue that could very well show up in mid-term attack ads as Democrats seek to add another big bill on climate change spending, child care and education priorities.

“For the frontliners it’s almost a losing situation to have to take that vote at the end of the year,” said retired centrist representative Filemon Vela (D-Texas), describing the critical situation in which the cap debt endangers Democratic incumbents. “You are damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

In the House, raising the debt ceiling can be politically difficult, but it is relatively easy legislation to pass, even if the party uses reconciliation. The House can pass it by simple majority under normal circumstances and avoid giving the GOP too much procedural weight, even under the obscure rules of the budget process.

Even the most reluctant centrists would cooperate, in part because of an agreement reached in late September with Pelosi’s management team, which ensured they would address the debt issue in a future vote.

But Senate Democrats must become entangled in filibustering if debt ceiling legislation is passed by regular ordinance, giving Senate Republicans the clout their House counterparts lack. And if Democrats used reconciliation, then their party’s senators would be subjected to a nerve-racking floor debate that includes unlimited voting – all to set a precedent for raising the debt ceiling on party lines.

This has led Democrats to think about changing the rules, if not completely eliminating the debt ceiling. As Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) Put it: “A rigged temporary solution shows how necessary a permanent solution is.

“All Democrats recognized it was different,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.). The party is stunned, he added, about “the idea that you even filibustered something that is purely procedural.”

Still, Manchin says he can’t be moved on filibuster, even when it comes to the debt limit. Sinema has not publicly said where she stands but has so far opposed any changes to the 60-vote threshold required for the chamber to pass most bills. This leaves Democrats short of votes to change the filibuster rules, although McConnell is watching the two moderates closely to make sure they don’t waver.

In the meantime, the only offer McConnell has for Democrats is to use the next few weeks to prepare for a long-term debt increase and pass it in December.

It “gives Democrats the time they ask for.” Their only argument for not doing it through reconciliation is that they didn’t have the time, too many obstacles. Now they have plenty of time, ”said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).

The problem? Senate Democrats say they will not use their new wiggle room to work on the debt ceiling, even as more House Democrats are hinting they would agree to join McConnell .

Instead, Senate Democrats say they are focused on getting a deal on Biden’s social spending bill. But negotiators remain distant, even on a high-profile deal, as lawmakers openly wage war on both the size and scope of the social infrastructure package.

This could leave a second bandage of last resort as the best remedy against another threat of default.

“My fear is that is what will happen,” said Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). “I hope it isn’t.”

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