Democrats’ Pretend Debt Limit Fight

A view of the US Capitol on January 27, 2014 in Washington.
National Journal
Michael Catalin
Add to Briefcase
Michael Catalin
Feb. 3, 2014, 5:02 p.m.

Sen­ate Demo­crats are throw­ing rhet­or­ic­al punches at Re­pub­lic­ans over the debt ceil­ing, warn­ing them not to de­mand spend­ing cuts or oth­er con­ces­sions. But this time, there’s no GOP op­pon­ent in the ring.

With Treas­ury pre­dict­ing that the lim­it will have to be raised in com­ing days, Sen­ate Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Patty Mur­ray has made a mis­sion of warn­ing Re­pub­lic­ans against mount­ing a fight. The Demo­crat from Wash­ing­ton state has is­sued state­ment after state­ment, writ­ten op-eds, sent let­ters to her col­leagues, and led her party’s charge. She’s hold­ing a hear­ing Tues­day fo­cused on mov­ing from crisis to crisis.

“The more time Re­pub­lic­ans spend dream­ing up their latest debt-lim­it wish list, the closer they are push­ing work­ers and the eco­nomy to­ward an­oth­er com­pletely un­ne­ces­sary crisis,” she said in a state­ment last week.

Yet, with the very real pos­sib­il­ity of re­tak­ing the Sen­ate in Novem­ber, Re­pub­lic­ans have not com­mit­ted to mak­ing de­mands in ex­change for in­creas­ing the $17 tril­lion debt lim­it. They have floated the pos­sib­il­ity of chan­ging the Af­ford­able Care Act or green-light­ing the Key­stone XL pipeline as pos­sible con­ces­sions, but they have ar­tic­u­lated no plan to achieve those aims.

“Here’s the real­ity — and that is that we were badly burned by the shut­down of the gov­ern­ment,” Sen. John Mc­Cain said. “If it hadn’t have been for Obama­care com­ing to the fore, it would have had even more im­pact. So Re­pub­lic­ans are nervous about an­oth­er show­down.”

Sen. Jeff Ses­sions of Alabama, the top Re­pub­lic­an on the Budget Com­mit­tee and a fisc­al hawk who op­posed the budget agree­ment, also doesn’t see a con­crete con­ces­sion emer­ging for Re­pub­lic­ans.

“I don’t know that there’s a firm com­mit­ment on what steps we can take to im­prove our fin­an­cial con­di­tion as part of any kind of debt ceil­ing in­crease,” Ses­sions said.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the cham­ber’s No. 3 Re­pub­lic­an, told Bloomberg re­cently that there would prob­ably be enough Re­pub­lic­ans to vote with Demo­crats on a clean debt-ceil­ing meas­ure.

So, why are Sen­ate Demo­crats — and Mur­ray in par­tic­u­lar — pick­ing this fight?

For one, Demo­crats are skep­tic­al of the ap­par­ent Re­pub­lic­an thaw over the debt lim­it.

“The last thing we need to do with a fra­gile re­cov­ery is rattle sabers about debt ceil­ings and wheth­er we’re go­ing to ex­tend the debt ceil­ing,” said Demo­crat­ic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota. “We saw that that didn’t work last time.”

Demo­crats have good reas­on to be skep­tic­al. Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell has called for at­tach­ing a spend­ing cut to the debt lim­it, and House Speak­er John Boehner has said a clean debt ceil­ing couldn’t pass the House. Said Mur­ray: “The Amer­ic­an people are sick and tired of Re­pub­lic­ans play­ing games with our eco­nom­ic re­cov­ery, and Demo­crats have made it clear that Re­pub­lic­ans don’t get to de­mand a ransom simply for al­low­ing Con­gress to do its job.”

Demo­crats are mind­ful of what a united GOP front in both cham­bers can achieve.

In 2011, con­ser­vat­ives won the Budget Con­trol Act, which res­ul­ted in across-the-board budget cuts known as se­quest­ra­tion, a dev­ast­at­ing blow for Demo­crats.

Since then, however, Re­pub­lic­ans have split over fund­ing for Obama­care, which led to the gov­ern­ment shut­down and debt-ceil­ing fights late last year. Sen­ate Demo­crats came to view their ap­proach — an out­right re­fus­al to ne­go­ti­ate over the debt ceil­ing — as a clear polit­ic­al and policy win­ner, a wedge to di­vide the GOP, and some Re­pub­lic­ans give that cal­cu­lus cred­ib­il­ity.

“Our con­stitu­ents ex­pect us to rein in spend­ing to the point where ob­vi­ously we don’t have to keep rais­ing the debt lim­it,” Mc­Cain said. “But there’s not the ap­pet­ite for a show­down that there was be­fore the gov­ern­ment shut­down.”

Al­though Re­pub­lic­ans have hardly been breath­ing fire over the debt ceil­ing, Sen­ate Demo­crats are likely to wait un­til Boehner and GOP lead­ers un­veil their plans be­fore act­ing, ac­cord­ing to one seni­or aide.

And there are de­cisions to be made, bey­ond any talk of con­ces­sions. For ex­ample, law­makers will have to work out the length of the debt-lim­it ex­ten­sion. Demo­crats want to ex­tend the lim­it for as long as pos­sible, the aide said, sug­gest­ing one or two years. Re­pub­lic­ans are apt to want a short­er ex­ten­sion.

In­deed, Re­pub­lic­ans have not al­ways put up a vig­or­ous fight over the debt lim­it.

They ceded a three-month ex­ten­sion early last year in ex­change for the No Budget No Pay Act, which called on law­makers to for­feit their pay if a budget were not passed. It was an easy pill for Demo­crats to swal­low be­cause they in­ten­ded to pass a budget.

After the shut­down, both cham­bers hashed out a two-year budget com­prom­ise and quickly passed an om­ni­bus ap­pro­pri­ations bill that con­formed to the spend­ing levels in the meas­ure, prompt­ing Demo­crats to ques­tion what more Re­pub­lic­ans might want to achieve.

“Hope­fully Re­pub­lic­ans will stop wor­ry­ing about keep­ing the tea party happy and will work with us to pre­vent a de­fault the way they’ve done the last two times,” Mur­ray said, “but this time without the drama and need­less un­cer­tainty.”

What We're Following See More »
ALSO VICE-CHAIR OF TRUMP’S TRANSITION TEAM
Trump Taps Rep. McMorris Rodgers for Interior Secretary
2 hours ago
BREAKING
RESULTS NOT NECESSARILY TO BE PUBLIC
White House Orders Review of Election Hacking
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

President Obama has called for a "full review" of the hacking that took place during the 2016 election cycle, according to Obama counterterrorism and homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco. Intelligence officials say it is highly likely that Russia was behind the hacking. The results are not necessarily going to be made public, but will be shared with members of Congress.

Source:
AT ISSUE: BENEFITS FOR COAL MINERS
Manchin, Brown Holding Up Spending Bill
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) are threatening to block the spending bill—and prevent the Senate from leaving town—"because it would not extend benefits for retired coal miners for a year or pay for their pension plans. The current version of the bill would extend health benefits for four months. ... Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Thursday afternoon moved to end debate on the continuing resolution to fund the government through April 28. But unless Senate Democrats relent, that vote cannot be held until Saturday at 1 a.m. at the earliest, one hour after the current funding measure expires."

Source:
PARLIAMENT VOTED 234-56
South Korean President Impeached
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

The South Korean parliament voted on Friday morning to impeach President Park Geun-hye over charges of corruption, claiming she allowed undue influence to a close confidante of hers. Ms. Park is now suspended as president for 180 days. South Korea's Constitutional Court will hear the case and decide whether to uphold or overturn the impeachment.

Source:
CLOSED FOR INAUGURAL ACTIVITIES
NPS: Women’s March Can’t Use Lincoln Memorial
5 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Participants in the women's march on Washington the day after inauguration won't have access to the Lincoln Memorial. The National Park Service has "filed documents securing large swaths of the national mall and Pennsylvania Avenue, the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial for the inauguration festivities. None of these spots will be open for protesters."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login