No. 2 Senate Democrat: Raising debt limit under reconciliation a ‘non-starter’

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2-ranking Senate Democratic leader, on Tuesday dismissed a proposal to use the budget reconciliation process to raise the federal debt limit with only Democratic votes as a non-starter.

Durbin warned that it would take three to four weeks to amend the Senate budget resolution and set up a special path to raise the nation’s debt ceiling without any Republican support.

“That is a non-starter. Using reconciliation is a non-starter,” Durbin said emphatically.

He said he and other members of the Senate Democratic caucus have listened to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) explain the arcane process for using budget reconciliation to raise the debt limit and it’s so complicated that it takes 15 minutes to lay out the entire scenario.

“It takes him about 15 minutes for Chuck Schumer to explain how that works, what it involves — three or four weeks of activity in the House and the Senate,” he said. “This notion, ‘Oh you just stick it on reconciliation,’ is a non-starter.”

Durbin said attaching the debt-limit measure to the human infrastructure investment package Democrats plan to pass under reconciliation or setting up a stand-alone reconciliation vehicle to raise the debt limit are both impractical.

Yet even as Durbin was throwing cold water on the idea of using reconciliation to raise the debt limit, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) was opening the door to that very option.

Hoyer hammered Senate Republicans, particular Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), for voting to hike the borrowing limit under GOP presidents, then opposing the same maneuver when Democrats are in the White House.

But noting Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s warning Tuesday that the Treasury’s borrowing authority will expire on Oct. 18, Hoyer said Democrats simply may not have a choice but to pass the measure alone via reconciliation.

“It is not an alternative not to protect the full faith and credit of the United States. So we may have to use reconciliation,” Hoyer said during a press call. “I think that would be a sad statement of Republican irresponsibility.”

Politico reported Tuesday morning that President Biden discussed the possibility of using budget reconciliation to raise the debt limit in a phone call with Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Monday evening.

Schumer on Tuesday announced he would request unanimous consent later in the day to allow a debt-limit suspension to pass with a majority vote without having to first overcome the usual 60-vote threshold to end a filibuster.

Republicans are expected to reject Schumer’s request. 

The entire Senate Republican Conference voted Monday to block a bill to fund the government past the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30 and to suspend the debt limit until Dec. 16, 2022. The legislation also included emergency funds to settle Afghan refugees and provide for disaster recovery in states hit by floods and wildfires.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) missed Monday’s vote. 

Mike Lillis contributed to this story, which was updated at 12:52 p.m.

Tags Ben Sasse Chuck Schumer Debt limit Dianne Feinstein Dick Durbin Filibuster Janet Yellen Joe Biden Mitch McConnell Nancy Pelosi Steny Hoyer

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