House votes to raise debt ceiling

The House on Tuesday cleared legislation to raise the debt limit into early December, ensuring that the nation doesn’t default on its debts next week but setting up another fiscal cliff at the end of the year. 

Lawmakers voted to avert a default in a somewhat indirect fashion. The House adopted a procedural rule along party lines in a 219-206 vote.

The rule outlines floor debate parameters for unrelated bills with a provision automatically deeming the short-term debt limit extension that the Senate approved last week as passed.

The temporary measure for raising the debt limit will only offer lawmakers a brief reprieve from the partisan impasse once President Biden signs it into law.

Another stopgap measure to fund the government also expires on Dec. 3, meaning Democrats will yet again have to find a way to prevent potential fiscal calamity in the twin threats of a shutdown and a default. 

For now, lawmakers have staved off a catastrophic debt default less than a week before the Oct. 18 deadline by which the Treasury Department estimated the U.S. could start failing to meet its borrowing obligations.

The House originally passed bills twice in recent weeks to suspend the debt limit into December 2022, but they stalled in the Senate due to GOP resistance to supporting any measure to avoid a default.

Senate Republicans ultimately agreed to a short-term extension to prevent a default next week, although the vote divided the party amid criticism from former President Trump. After some cajoling from GOP leaders, 11 Senate Republicans joined with Democrats last week on a procedural hurdle requiring 60 votes to allow consideration of the debt limit extension.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has warned that Republicans won’t support another short-term extension like this next time around. 

“I write to inform you that I will not provide such assistance again if your all-Democrat government drifts into another avoidable crisis,” McConnell wrote in a letter to Biden last Friday.

Republicans are insisting that Democrats use the budget reconciliation process to raise the debt limit on a long-term basis, since it is one of the few things exempt from a Senate filibuster. It’s the same process that Democrats are using for their wide-ranging package to expand social safety net programs and mitigate climate change.

But Democrats remain adamant that they won’t use the budget reconciliation process for the debt limit, since it is far more time-consuming and would require specifying a number for raising the debt limit that Republicans could subsequently use in campaign ads. They argue that the debt limit should continue to be raised on a bipartisan basis as it has historically been done in the past, including three times under the Trump administration.

It’s not clear how lawmakers will resolve the coming impasse in December.

Some top Democrats, as well as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, have endorsed the idea of overhauling or abolishing the debt limit in its current form so that the near-annual fight is taken out of lawmakers’ hands for good.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) earlier Tuesday expressed support for a proposal from House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) and Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) that would transfer the authority for raising it to the Treasury secretary instead of Congress.

“I think it has merit,” Pelosi said at a press conference in the Capitol. 

The Senate’s agreement last week to pass only a short-term debt limit extension meant the House had to briefly return from a scheduled recess on Tuesday to ensure the legislation made it to Biden’s desk before the deadline.

Republicans accused Democrats of tucking the bill passage into a rule to avoid forcing members to take a direct vote on raising the debt ceiling.

“When directly voting on something might be too tough on Democratic members, just wave your wand and deem it passed,” said Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), the top Republican on the House Rules Committee.

Democrats explained that they included passage of the debt limit extension as part of the procedural rule simply to make Tuesday’s session minimally time-consuming with only one vote.

“We’re simply being efficient here in bringing this rule to the floor to accommodate the Senate amendment,” said House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). “No one’s hiding from anything.”

Tags debt ceiling Donald Trump Filibuster Janet Yellen Joe Biden John Yarmuth Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Tom Cole

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