Senate Republicans block debt limit, government funding bill

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Senate Republicans Monday blocked a measure to temporarily fund the government and suspend the debt ceiling, pushing Congress even closer to the brink in a shutdown and default showdown.

The GOP filibuster of the House-passed bill, though expected, brought into sharp relief the fast-approaching deadlines to avoid a government shutdown Thursday and a U.S. credit default in roughly three weeks.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, needed at least 10 Republican votes Monday to overcome the 60-vote filibuster threshold.

Not a single Republican joined the chamber’s 50 Democrats to try to keep the bill alive.

The standoff pits Democrats, who don’t want to underscore their massive spending with a party-line vote to raise the debt limit, against Republicans, who don’t want to give any political cover to the majority.

Congress’s failure to raise or suspend the debt limit would force the Treasury to make decisions about what obligations get paid and which go into arrears. It would also risk severe economic consequences, such as panic selling on Wall Street, which would ripple through the economy.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer called the Republican filibuster “one of the most reckless, most irresponsible votes I’ve witnessed in the U.S. Senate.”

“The Republican Party has solidified itself as the party of default and it is the American people who will pay the price,” said Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat. 

Earlier, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made the case that Republicans simply won’t assist to raise the debt limit as Democrats ram through President Biden’s $3.5 trillion of social welfare and climate change programs.

“There’s no chance Republicans will help lift Democrats’ credit limit so they can immediately steamroll through a socialist binge that will hurt families and help China,” the Kentucky Republican said on the Senate floor before the vote. “If they want to tax, borrow, and spend historic sums of money without our input, they’ll have to raise the debt limit without our help. This is the reality.”

Democrats have pressed for a bipartisan vote on the debt ceiling and warned that a failure to do so would have disastrous consequences.

The Treasury has estimated that the government could run up against its borrowing limit by mid-October.

The suspension of the debt limit until December 2022 is included in a stopgap spending bill that would avoid a government shutdown at midnight Thursday. The temporary spending measure would keep the government open until Dec. 3.

Republicans have demanded separate votes on government funding and the debt limit, arguing that the Democrats should fully own the debt hike in light of the massive spending they have in store.

Republican strategist Christopher Wilson of WPA Intelligence said the Democrats’ move to tie the debt ceiling to the stopgap government funding measure is a clear sign that the Democrats are worried about how the massive spending bill will be viewed by voters.

Democrats, who control the White House and both chambers of Congress, can pass the debt ceiling package through a reconciliation measure that would only require a simple majority to pass. That’s how they intend to pass Mr. Biden’s massive bill for anti-poverty, education, health care and climate change programs.

“The reason they don’t want to take the easy and obvious path now is that they don’t want to be responsible for the number on the debt ceiling hike,” Mr. Wilson said. “If they do it through reconciliation, they have to put a number on the debt ceiling, and then they own those trillions in borrowing.”

The U.S. national debt currently stands at $28.8 trillion.

Democrats are still faced with the looming shutdown and default deadlines.

The budget reconciliation process has only been used a handful of times to raise the debt limit in the past, and adding the measure to the $3.5 trillion in spending bill will unlock more division among Democrats over the new spending.

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, told reporters that he was not sure whether they would agree to pass the debt ceiling measure through the reconciliation process.

Polling shows that both Democrats and Republicans stand to lose if they don’t stop a shutdown or default.

Although the blame for both a government shutdown or a debt default would skew slightly towards Democrats, the majority of respondents would blame both parties.

When asked who would be to blame for a government shutdown, 32% of respondents point fingers at the Democratic Party, 24% blame Republicans, and 36% say Republicans and Democrats are equally responsible.

Regarding blame for a potential default, 31% would blame Democrats, 20% Republicans, and 39% said both parties.

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