Democrats offer bill to raise debt ceiling, avoid filibuster

House Democrats on Tuesday introduced legislation that would allow the Senate to raise the debt ceiling without having to overcome a filibuster.

The legislation would set up a one-time process to raise the debit limit to a specific number without requiring 60 votes to overcome procedural roadblocks. After that process is established with the help of Republicans, then Democrats are expected to pass the separate debt-ceiling increase without any GOP support. 

Senate Republicans emerging from a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Tuesday said the proposal will pass the Senate with at least 10 Republican votes. 

“I would expect to be able to be for it,” said Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of McConnell’s leadership team. “I think it’s less of a problem for us on the Medicare bill than it would have been on the defense authorization bill.”

This would allow the debt ceiling to be raised in the Senate with only Democratic votes in the 50-50 chamber. Republicans had said they would not provide votes to help raise the debt ceiling again after doing so in October. 

The bill unveiled by the House Rules Committee combines a fast-track process for raising the debt ceiling with Medicare legislation. 

The 10-page proposal would avert automatic cuts faced by physicians and other medical providers under Medicare, while setting up the special procedures designed to pave the way for the debt-limit hike in the Senate.

Separately, the bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees released a massive defense authorization package following days of compromise negotiations that had resulted from the Senate’s failure to pass its own version through the upper chamber.

A Senate Republican aide explained the legislation will set up a special one-time process to allow Democrats to pass a follow-up bill raising the debt limit to a specific number. Democrats could vote by simple majority to raise the debt limit high enough to cover federal spending obligations until after the 2022 midterm elections. 

The bill to actually raise the debt limit by an estimated $2 trillion would be passed by the House at a later date and then come to the Senate. The fast-track procedure authority must be used by Jan. 16, at which time it will expire.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen informed lawmakers last month that Congress needs to raise the debt limit by Dec. 15.

McConnell had previously mulled attaching the one-time fast-track process for passing future debt limit legislation to the National Defense Authorization Act, which has strong bipartisan support. 

But that idea received strong push-back in the Senate GOP conference because Republican senators were unhappy at the prospect of having to vote against the popular defense bill to register their concerns about raising the debt limit. 

Blunt said that members that don’t want to raise the debt limit “have an easier time” voting against Medicare legislation “than they would have voting against the defense authorization.” 

He predicted that 10 Republicans and “maybe more” would vote for the combined Medicare-fix bill and debt limit fast-track process. 

Senate Republican Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said the Medicare-fix legislation was an attractive vehicle for setting up the Senate fast track for raising the debt limit because it will come over as a message from the House and would be subject to only one procedural vote set at a 60-vote threshold.

He said that when Democrats vote to pass the follow-up bill to raise the debt limit by simple majority, they will “own this massive increase in the debt that’s going to accommodate all the new spending they want to do.”

“We think that’s a perfectly appropriate way to handle this,” he said.

Blunt said the Medicare legislation will sugarcoat the vote to set up the fast-track process.  

“I think everybody is hearing a lot from hospitals at home about the importance of solving this Medicare problem,” he said.

The effort to raise the government’s statutory debt limit does not allocate new spending, but merely empowers the Treasury to make good on obligations adopted over a span of decades by Congresses and presidents representing both parties. For that reason, it was once considered to be a noncontroversial bookkeeping chore. 

That changed dramatically with the rise of the Tea Party, which hammered deficit spending as an existential threat to the country and pressured GOP leaders to use the issue as leverage to extract other policy concessions.

Democrats in both chambers have ripped the GOP for not supporting the debt hike, and they have noted that they had helped former President Trump raise the debt limit more than once.  
A senior Republican Senate aide defended the GOP’s messaging tactic, saying it would be “a dereliction of duty” for Republicans to make it “easy” on Democratic leaders to adopt the proposal. 

This story was updated at 1:47 p.m.

Tags Donald Trump Janet Yellen John Thune Mitch McConnell Roy Blunt

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