House Passes Workaround Bill To Raise Debt Ceiling

House Passes Workaround Bill To Raise Debt Ceiling

Mona Salama
Mona Salama
December 8, 2021

The House on Tuesday night passed a "fast-track process" bill designed to create a one-time speeding approval of debt ceiling, giving Senate Democrats the ability to raise the debt limit all on their own and passing with only a simple majority of 51 votes.

The vote was 222-212. Only one Republican — Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), joined all 221 Democrats in voting in favor of the bill.

The "fast-track process" is a result of an 11th-hour deal between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The deal gave Congress a week to pass the deal ahead of Dec. 15 deadline. It is a date that the Treasury Department has repeatedly warned Congress if the debt ceiling is not addressed, the nation will exhaust its borrowing powers and be forced to skip some of its financial obligations.

Under the accord, the legislation would provide a one-time track — to be used only once, before mid-January — for the Senate to raise the debt limit by a specific amount with a simple majority vote, blocking any sort of logjam from Republicans in using the filibuster hurdles.

The scheme would first need at least 60 senators — including 10 Republicans — to vote in support of the one-time rule change allowing the debt ceiling extension to pass by a simple majority. Coupled in the debt-ceiling bill is legislation that would postpone automatic scheduled 2 percent cuts to Medicare, farm aid, and other mandatory spending programs that were set to kick in 2022.

Once the Senate passes the House-approved bill that delayed the Medicare sequestration cuts until 2023 and is signed into law by President Biden, the Senate will take up legislation that raises the nation's credit limit. The subsequent debt ceiling bill will only pass by Democratic Senators, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.

The quiet bipartisan deal from McConnell was a drastic U-turn from his previous stance taken for months and his ultimatum in October when the debt ceiling crisis sparked a weeks-long standoff in Congress. After 11 Republicans helped Democrats advance a short-term debt hike in early October, McConnell, in a scathing letter to Biden, warned that Republicans "will not provide such assistance again if your all-Democrat government drifts into another avoidable crisis."

However, instead of forcing Democrats' hands to use the reconciliation in addressing the debt, McConnell caved by agreeing to a convoluted strategy. Under reconciliation, Democrats would be mandated to specify the exact dollar amount of new national debt as they attempt to pass expansive legislative priorities — including Biden's Build Back Better social welfare spending bill by Christmas.

Democrats have not yet said how high the new debt limit would be, but the ceiling is expected to exceed $30 trillion to ensure Congress won't need to act again before the midterm elections next year.

Despite both processes achieving the same result Republicans wanted but in a different manner, by forcing Democrats into the corner in revealing the number they want to new debt limit, the deal McConnell made with Schumer ultimately angered Republicans who feel the Senate GOP Leader waved the white flag too soon. According to a Senate aide who  spoke to The Floridian

"The red line is intact," McConnell declared to reporters Tuesday, suggesting he never moved from his original goalposts and never wavered from his previous remarks. "The red line is that you have a simple majority party-line vote on the debt ceiling. That's exactly where we will end up."

McConnell expressed confidence that he will deliver at least 10 Republican votes when the bill comes to the Senate floor. However, it's unclear as to which GOP senators will agree to back the contortionist procedural strategy that McConnell negotiated. A Senate aide, who spoke to The Floridian Tuesday following the GOP closed-door luncheon, said McConnell sparked opposition from both factions of the GOP Senate caucus.

"I'm not supporting any raising the debt ceiling," Sen. Rick Scott of Florida told reporters after the Senate GOP caucus luncheon, according to the pool report.

"I don't think Republicans should be facilitating adding trillions in debt," Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said. "Democrats should at least own the responsibility for crushing debt they are necessitating. Republicans should not participate in racking up that debt, which is harming people across the country."

At least two Republicans who voted in October to temporarily lift the debt ceiling until December have said that this time they won't go along with McConnell's latest strategy.

"I wouldn't vote for it," Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), one of the 10 GOP who voted to advance the short-term debt hike. "I just think we ought to keep our word with the base."

However, several Republicans who were vocal with their opposition on any debt limit increase are struggling in voting against the bill since it is now tied to language in delaying Medicare sequestration cuts. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), an expected "No" vote on any debt-limit increase bill, said it would be wrong to vote no due to the provision being tucked into the bill delaying Medicare cuts.

"I'm not going to vote to cut Medicare. That's wrong. I can tell you that I'm opposed to cutting Medicare. I think that it's the wrong time to put patients and providers and doctors in a tough, tough spot," Hawley said.

"People can either vote for it or against the Medicare cuts. To me, that's the question. I'm not going to let those cuts to doctors and hospitals go into effect," Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said.

The Senate is expected to take up the process bill later this week. If 10 Republicans vote in favor of the contortionist process, the Senate could vote on the second measure in raising the debt limit this weekend or as early next week.


Mona Salama

Mona Salama

Mona Salama is a political reporter for The Floridian covering Congress, the White House and Congressional elections.

Subscribe to the newsletter everyone in Florida is reading.