This is partly just Republicans being obstructionist asshats, as per usual—Republicans have repeatedly forced government shutdowns since the 1990s (and it has usually cost them public support) and taken the government hostage in ways just like this. But it’s also a ploy to put pressure on the major budget reconciliation bill Democrats are negotiating. That can pass the Senate with a simple majority vote, meaning Republicans can’t filibuster it, so Republicans are saying Democrats should just put the debt limit suspension in the reconciliation bill and proceed without Republican votes.
“They have the House, the Senate and the presidency. It’s their obligation to govern,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell recently said, which is an interesting explanation of his intention to try to block Democrats from governing wherever and whenever possible. If he wants to contribute votes to abolishing the filibuster so that Democrats can pass anything in the Senate without Republican votes, then I’m sure Democrats would be happy to govern!
The drawing board Republicans want Democrats to go to is that reconciliation bill, but there’s no guarantee Democrats can have it ready in time to avoid the U.S. bumping up against the debt ceiling and defaulting on its obligations.
“Failing to increase the debt limit would have catastrophic economic consequences,” according to the Treasury Department, while the White House pointed out a long list of programs that could be cut off, including disaster relief, Medicaid, infrastructure funding, education, public health, child nutrition, and more.
“No one would be spared,” Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, told CNN. “It would be such a self-imposed disaster that we wouldn’t recover from, all at a time when our role in the world is already being questioned.”
This needs to get done. Democrats—thanks in large part to Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema—aren’t close enough to having a reconciliation bill ready to stick the debt limit in there and pass it before the U.S. defaults on its obligations. But Democrats also think, on principle, that Republicans should be part of what has been a bipartisan process literally dozens of times, and is now needed overwhelmingly because of government spending passed under Trump and with a Republican-controlled Senate.
“Are we hostage to Republicans who are threatening to blow up a part of the economic system because they want to do that for politics?” asked Sen. Elizabeth Warren. “That’s just not where we should be as a nation.”
It’s not. The question is how to get the hostage out of Republican control.