Two weeks ahead of a major fiscal deadline, Congress confronts the specter of default, unless both parties cooperate to allow the government to keep borrowing to pay its rapidly snowballing debt obligations. Traditionally, the decision to raise the debt ceiling requires a minimum of 60 votes in the Senate, a challenging feat in the now evenly divided chamber.
President Biden issued a warning to Republicans on Tuesday when speaking to reporters: “There’s not many options if they’re going to be that irresponsible. … There’s not much time left to do it by reconciliation.”
When asked if Congress would seriously consider eroding the filibuster hurdle to get a debt limit increase across the finish line, Biden answered: “I think that’s a real possibility.” While Biden has been reluctant to demand the filibuster be outright eliminated, he has signaled it should be modified to make it less of a instrument of power for the minority party.
The borrowing cap must be lifted or suspended until a specific date in the future by October 18. While both parties recognize the grave economic implications of defaulting on the national debt, Republicans fear an equally disturbing precedent would be set by normalizing massive spending packages.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to deny Democrats the ten votes they need to overcome a filibuster on a proposal to expand the debt limit. In August, before the debt-ceiling standoff escalated, McConnell urged Democrats to take ownership over their exorbitant “socialist shopping list” and finance it without Republican votes.
Rather than operate under the falsehood that both parties concur with record spending, the Republican Party argues that the Democrats should bear responsibility for the sprees they’re spearheading. Democrats alone can raise the debt ceiling to fund their prescriptions, McConnell insists, but through the unconventional reconciliation process, which only requires a simple majority along partisan lines. Without securing the votes of moderate Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, however, the Democrats might still struggle to overcome this lower hurdle.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has rejected the reconciliation option to increase the debt limit, claiming that it is “risky” and not expedient enough given the looming default. On Wednesday, the Senate will deliberate on a third measure to suspend the debt ceiling in 2022, but it’s unlikely that Republicans will acquiesce.