Lawmakers inch closer to debt ceiling solution

As the United States moves closer toward being unable to pay its bills, lawmakers released legislation Tuesday that would allow Democrats to raise the debt limit with a simple majority vote. 

The fast-track process would require Democrats in the Senate to introduce the legislation to raise the debt limit by a certain amount, rather than suspending the debt limit. It could then be voted on with a simple majority – rather than the usual 60 votes needed in the Senate.

The House Rules Committee released the legislation that included setting up the procedure as part of a bill preventing Medicare spending cuts. Lawmakers have been in talks over how to proceed for weeks after the debt limit was increased in a short-term deal in October. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will vote as early as Tuesday night to pass the procedural legislation. The Senate could vote to move the process forward as soon as Thursday. 

The move comes just over a week before the December 15th deadline, past which time Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said there may be scenarios where the United States might not be able to pay all of its bills, increasing the risk of going into default for the first time in U.S. history. She said going into default would “eviscerate” the economic recovery. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that the goal was to increase the debt limit with a simple majority without a “convoluted, risky, lengthy process, and it looks like the Republicans will help us facilitate that.”

He said they feel good about where the debt ceiling process is headed but warned it’s not done until it is done. Schumer said the amount the debt limit will be raised to will be revealed when they “get it done.” 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday the process was in the in the best interest of the country and consistent with Republican views. He also said the process would allow Democrats to “proudly own” raising the debt limit, and signaled enough Republicans were on board. 

“I’m confident that this particular procedure coupled with the avoidance of Medicare cuts will achieve enough Republican support to clear the 60 vote threshold,” McConnell said. This would allow Democrats to then vote to raise the debt limit without any Republican support.

The White House said it’s “heartened” by the progress being made and hopes Congress will move quickly on the debt ceiling so they can focus on the president’s agenda. 

On Monday, House leadership suggested the debt ceiling bill could be tied to passage of the national defense spending legislation. Since then, several Senate Republicans have voiced opposition to linking the two. 

Last week, the Bipartisan Policy Center urged Congress to move quickly, saying it was flirting with financial disaster. They revised their projection of the so-called “X date” when the government would be unable to pay its bills to fall sometime between December 21, 2021 and January 28, 2022. The organization noted that due to the pandemic, there is a lot of uncertainty regarding government cash flows. 

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