Schumer-McConnell debt hike talks spill into Thursday

Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
Greg Nash

Negotiations over a short-term debt hike are spilling over into Thursday as Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) haggle over the size of the debt limit increase. 

McConnell announced after a closed-door GOP lunch that Republicans were offering to let Democrats pass a short-term debt limit increase that would last into December, and Democrats quickly signaled that they intended to accept the agreement.

But behind-the-scenes talks then dragged on for hours, with the Senate remaining in limbo as lawmakers and staffers waited to see if the two leaders could hash out a deal to punt the debt fight closer to the end of the year. 

Schumer said on the Senate floor after midnight Thursday morning that he and McConnell had not yet reached a deal but that he hoped they could wrap up talks in a matter of hours. 
“We are making good progress, we’re not there yet. But I hope we can come to an agreement tomorrow morning,” Schumer said from the Senate floor. 

As part of the agreement outlined by Republicans, the short-term debt extension would have to be tied to a specific number instead of a specific day in December.  

“My understanding is they’re a fair bit apart,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), adding that Democrats were pushing to increase the debt ceiling to a higher number that could buy them more time at the end of the year.

Cramer said that Republicans had offered around $300 billion as the increase, while Democrats were pushing for a larger number. Spokespeople for Schumer didn’t immediately respond to a question about how high Democrats wanted to raise the debt ceiling as part of the short-term extension.  

Cramer added that the number leadership agrees on has “implications” for when Congress will need to act in December to avert a debt default.

McConnell, leaving the Capitol on Wednesday night, predicted he and Schumer would “finish up” the talks “soon.” 

“We’re trading paper, which you always do at this point,” he said about the talks with Democrats.

A Democratic aide said on Wednesday night that they were close to an agreement, but still negotiating.

The hours-long talks are a u-turn from the start of Wednesday, when the Senate had been expected to hold a procedural vote on a stand-alone bill to suspend the debt ceiling through December 2022. Because Democrats would have needed to break a 60-vote filibuster, that would have failed.  

But Democrats delayed the vote on Wednesday afternoon after McConnell’s offer, keeping the Senate in limbo for roughly eight hours. The vote could now occur on Thursday at a time to be determined, according to Schumer’s remarks just after midnight. 

If McConnell and Schumer are able to agree on what number the debt ceiling will be raised to, they’ll still need a deal with all of their members to quickly schedule a vote on the short-term debt hike or the process could be dragged out for days.

“That probably takes us into late Friday or into Saturday, unless there can be UC,” Cramer said, referring to the unanimous consent agreement that could speed up the Senate’s debate.  

Republicans could need to put up at least 10 votes to break procedural hurdles on the agreement, if they can’t get a deal to waive those speed bumps. 

McConnell is already facing pushback from some corners of his caucus over putting a short-term debt hike on the table. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the top Republican on the Budget Committee, said that he doesn’t support a short-term debt extension that would last until December. 

“I do not support the Democrats’ reconciliation package and I do not support raising the debt limit to make that level of spending possible. If Democrats want to raise the debt ceiling they can use the reconciliation process,” Graham said in a statement.

GOP senators say their thinking over the debt ceiling fight was influenced by seeing Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) come under new pressure this week to support an exemption to the filibuster for the debt ceiling. 

But Graham appeared to push back on that thinking, saying Republicans shouldn’t be “held hostage or extorted regarding threats to change the legislative filibuster.” 

“When Republicans were in charge of the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives I held firm against any moves to change the legislative filibuster. I never told my Democratic colleagues that ‘Unless you work with me on certain things, I will have to create a carve-out to the filibuster,'” Graham said.

“If an expedited reconciliation process is not good enough, then Democrats should own it and change the rules.”

Updated at 12:50 a.m.

Tags Charles Schumer Joe Manchin Kevin Cramer Kyrsten Sinema Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell

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