Republicans use debt ceiling and infrastructure like clubs to derail Democratic agenda

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It is not uncommon for the minority to resist whatever the ruling party does. But when it comes to both the debt ceiling and infrastructure, Republicans aren’t really opposed to the substance of what Democrats are trying to accomplish. Instead, Republicans believe they are getting the most political pain out of the Democrats and showing divisions within the Democratic ranks that will make voters believe that President Joe Biden’s party is unable to rule before the mid-terms of. next year.

Republicans don’t even sweat for being labeled as hypocrites, obstructionists, or irresponsible. In fact, they are convinced that the Democrats will bear the responsibility for bringing the nation to the brink of economic disaster.

“How could we get in trouble, when they have 50 votes and the vice president to break (a tie)? All they have to do is set it up, vote on it,” said said Sen. Chuck Grassley, a senior Republican from Iowa. “Why would we even be involved? “

Democrats blame Republicans for refusing to lift a finger to tackle debt ceiling as nation draws closer to the looming October 18 deadline, arguing there is liability bipartite to help repay debts incurred by both parties during the pandemic. If the country’s borrowing limit is not raised by then, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned the country will default on its debts for the very first time – a scenario that upsets markets, pushes up prices. interest rate and create job losses.

“Republicans say they will not do their part to avoid this unnecessary calamity. So be it. But they must stop playing Russian roulette with the American economy,” Biden said in a scathing speech Monday. .

McConnell doesn’t blink

McConnell, however, is completely unmoved. The Kentucky Republican sent Biden a letter Monday urging the president to pressure his party to deal with the issue on his own, once again making it clear that the GOP will not provide the votes. Republicans also circulated a memo highlighting when Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer voted against raising the debt ceiling in the early 2000s.

Republicans want to force Democrats to tackle the debt ceiling through reconciliation, a special budget tool that would only require a simple majority to clear the Senate.

“The majority don’t need our votes. They just want a bipartisan shortcut around the procedural hurdles that they can actually overcome on their own, and they want this shortcut so they can get back to partisan spending as quickly as possible. “McConnell said Monday. of the Senate floor.

In the Senate, the debt ceiling strategy is no secret. McConnell said it months ago – he expected Democrats to shoulder this burden themselves.

It is also a double whammy. By forcing Democrats to raise the country’s borrowing limit themselves through a complex budget process, Republicans would have two opportunities to put Democrats on file in a series of marathon votes known as the vote- a-ramas.

That same cumbersome process would also force Democrats to say exactly how much they need to increase debt, a number that could haunt lawmakers heading for re-election.

“They have to put the top line in there and show the American people what they’re doing. It’s a strategy and it’s part of it,” said Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, senior GOP official. . “The American people should see the numbers.”

It all fits into the current Republicans midterm narrative that Democrats are reckless in managing the country’s finances and driving inflation up.

“I think Americans are fed up with this government spending,” said Senator Rick Scott, chairman of the GOP campaign arm of the Senate. “So if you talk to people, they see that Democrats’ spending causes inflation.”

But Democrats have so far refused to go down the path of reconciliation, for the same reason Republicans push it: Reconciliation is a complicated and time-consuming process that would suck up precious oxygen during a critical time for Democrats. , who are rushing to come to an agreement on their huge economy bill before the end of the month.

“I’m not going to say something is impossible, but the constant message from our caucus is that it will take extra time, streaks of votes and delays, which is exactly what McConnell wants. He knows the outcome,” said Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. , Democrat No. 2 in the Senate.

There is another option, however, that would not require GOP support: Democrats could lower the debt ceiling, and Republicans could simply agree not to obstruct it. But it would require unanimous cooperation and some Republicans have already ruled it out – another sign they are using the speed limit as a stick to derail the Democratic agenda.

“After asking Democrats to provide the votes to suspend the debt ceiling, we made it clear last week that we were ready to do it, and they are still blocking us,” said Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from the United States. Delaware and one of Biden’s closest allies. in the Senate. “This chicken game is irresponsible and dangerous.”

Republicans also rejected the idea of ​​negotiating some sort of compromise with Democrats in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.

“There is no reason for us to help facilitate a bad policy that we do not agree with, and therefore they have to eat little time off the floor to exceed the debt ceiling through reconciliation,” I’m fine with it, ”said GOP member Senator John Cornyn from Texas. direction.

Schumer has held a vote on a bill to suspend the debt ceiling that is sure to fail amid GOP opposition, but Democrats have yet to define a “plan B”, although the Democrats of New York has warned that work on weekends and vacations is possible. . Democrats must act quickly if they are to resort to reconciliation, which could take two weeks or more, which would collide with the mid-October deadline.

When asked on Monday if he could guarantee that the United States would not hit the debt ceiling, Biden told reporters: “No, I can’t – it depends on Mitch McConnell.”

Republicans argue that it’s not about politics, it’s about politics: they don’t want to give Democrats the green light to spend billions of dollars to extend the social safety net and fight climate change. And they’re betting that a message of fiscal conservatism will play well with their conservative bases at home, and that they won’t be harassed for refusing to raise the debt ceiling.

But increasing the country’s borrowing limit would only allow the government to pay off debts already incurred – including spending accumulated under Trump – and would not prevent future spending. Yet that hasn’t stopped the GOP from arguing otherwise.

“They want all the spending. They just have to vote to raise the debt ceiling. It’s all their money. We’re not for that,” said Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky. “They have the power to do it.”

“All bets are off” on infrastructure

The GOP’s reluctance to cooperate with Democrats has also infiltrated the debate over the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Even though the package garnered the support of 19 Senate Republicans, including McConnell, House GOP leaders have launched an all-out campaign to limit the number of Republicans voting for him on their side of the Capitol.

Only a dozen Republicans were expected to vote for the bill, which contains funds for hugely popular infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, airports and broadband. He was supposed to receive a floor vote last week, but was delayed amid Democratic divisions.

Now the handful of House Republicans who have publicly said they will support the legislation are rethinking their votes, saying it’s clear the infrastructure bill is tied to the Democrats’ economic bill.

“All bets are off,” said Rep. Don Bacon, a Republican from Nebraska who had planned to vote for the bill.

Republicans – well aware that passing infrastructure and the economic bill may be Democrats’ best hope for retaining their majority next year – want to make sure they won’t be the reason infrastructure law will cross the finish line. If so, it would not only secure a key victory for Biden, but could also give Democrats momentum to push their broader economic agenda forward.

Republicans argue that their strategy for the future isn’t even necessarily to block Democrats as much as it is to watch them fight through their ranks.

“They’re in the mud. We kind of watch them take root in the mud, so let them fail on their own,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican from Iowa.

After two weeks of deep schisms within the Democratic Party over the contours and cost of their infrastructure and social safety net bills, Republicans believe they may not have to intervene much to block the Democrats’ agenda.

“My theory is that you never want to be in the room when someone commits suicide. It’s not a story you want to be a part of. We don’t do anything. They have their own internal knife fight. Why? would we go enter the path? ” said Senator Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina.

“I’m not sure we’ve done anything to put them in the boxes they’re in.”

Manu Raju and Jessica Dean contributed to this story.


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