McConnell, Schumer hunt for debt ceiling off-ramp

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

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) met on Thursday as they look for an off-ramp from a looming fight over the debt ceiling.

“We had a good discussion about several different issues that are all extant as we move toward the end of the session,” McConnell told reporters. 

“We agreed to kind of keep talking, working together to try to get somewhere,” McConnell added.

The in-person meeting comes after The Hill first reported on Wednesday that the two had talked about the nation’s borrowing limit, though two sources cautioned the discussions were preliminary. 

Raising the debt ceiling is one of several issues on Congress’s year-end agenda after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned lawmakers that they will hit the “X” date — when the government is no longer solvent — on Dec. 15. Congress also needs to fund the government and complete a defense bill, and Democrats want to pass President Biden’s spending plan.

But Thursday’s meeting between Schumer and McConnell is a sharp U-turn from the October debt fight, where the two leaders spent weeks talking past each other and only started negotiating days before the Senate passed a short-term debt hike. 

The two leaders have been publicly tightlipped about their strategy for raising the debt ceiling, after they spent much of the lead-up to the October deadline in an entrenched standoff. 

Eleven GOP senators helped advance the short-term debt extension in October, but several, including McConnell, have ruled out using a similar strategy this time. 

“I don’t think that anybody is willing to take that vote again when there’s a path forward that doesn’t require it,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), McConnell’s No. 2. 

Instead, Republicans are offering to expedite Democrats raising the debt ceiling on their own under the budget reconciliation process, which lets them bypass the 60-vote legislative filibuster. 

“My Democratic colleagues don’t need a single Republican to raise the debt ceiling,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.), the top Republican on the Banking Committee. 

Toomey added that Republicans “would be willing” to expedite the process for Democrats to raise the debt ceiling on their own through the budget process, which requires them to raise the debt ceiling to a specific number.  

Democrats were adamant heading into the October standoff that they would not raise the debt ceiling through reconciliation. But asked about that path during a press conference, Schumer didn’t directly rule it out. 

“Look, we must pass the debt limit. We cannot let the full faith and security of this — full faith and credit of this country lapse and we hope to do it in a bipartisan way,” he said.

Tags Charles Schumer debt ceiling Debt limit Janet Yellen Joe Biden John Thune Mitch McConnell Pat Toomey

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