Democrats are taking their first concrete steps to avert a government shutdown in two weeks, even as they struggle to wrangle a master plan for handling multiple fiscal cliffs ahead.
President Joe Biden plans to hold a joint call with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday afternoon, while the top Democrats mull their options for handling both the Sept. 30 funding deadline and the impending debt cliff.
The House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet Monday to tee up the stopgap spending bill for a floor vote next week. Text of that funding measure has not been released, but the patch is likely to keep government agencies open into December, setting up another critical funding deadline ahead of the holidays. Top lawmakers are leaning towards Dec. 10 for the end date but have also left open Dec. 3 as a possibility.
While they prepare the bill for floor action, majority party leaders are deciding whether to pair the must-pass funding package to avoid a shutdown with a measure to tackle the approaching debt cliff — a plan Republicans vehemently promise to reject. A bill that addresses both fiscal threats would likely pass the House, but its odds are highly questionable in the Senate, where all but four GOP lawmakers have promised to vote against raising the debt limit.
“The premise that Republicans are not going to vote in any way, shape, form or fashion for a debt limit increase is a correct premise. That would not happen,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) warned this week.
Democrats would be remiss to pass the funding bill without debt limit action, since the Treasury Department is expected to run out of borrowing ability sometime next month — a breaking point likely to trigger economic turmoil. Majority party leaders can maximize their leverage over Republicans by coupling the issues, forcing GOP lawmakers to either fall in line or go on record against billions of dollars in disaster aid, preventing a government shutdown and avoiding debt default.
“The debt limit is something that we should do almost automatically,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said this week. “So any opportunity that we have to pass it, the sooner the better. … Wherever we can get a bill in, I hope we can get the debt ceiling included in it.”
A cap on the nation’s ability to borrow money was reinstated on Aug. 1. The Treasury Department has since implemented a number of workarounds to keep paying the government’s bills on time, but Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned those measures could be exhausted as soon as next month — a scenario that would wreak unparalleled economic havoc.
Earlier this week, some Senate Republicans indicated a willingness to support a stopgap bill that includes billions of dollars in hurricane and flood relief requested by Biden, citing their own needs in states rocked by Hurricane Ida and other storms throughout the year.
But any measure to raise or suspend the debt limit must be left off, GOP lawmakers said, insisting that Democrats handle a typically bipartisan issue alone, since the majority party is pursuing multitrillion-dollar spending plans without Republican support.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) bluntly said Monday that he would not support a continuing resolution that includes disaster aid and action to stave off a debt default.
“This debt limit is all justifying their robbing the bank to spend a whole bunch of new social programs that are going to feed the fires of inflation,” he said.