According to the Treasury Department’s most recent written warning to Congress, the nation’s debt ceiling needs to be raised by Nov. 3, which is just one week from tomorrow. Republican leaders know they’ll have to do the right thing fairly soon – sometime over the next eight days – but they have no idea how.
House Republicans thought they had a plan. The strategy called for passing a right-wing plan, called the “Terms of Credit Act,” on Friday, tying the debt-limit increase to a series of conservative goodies that GOP lawmakers couldn’t get through actual legislating.
That plan, however, was scrapped late last week when House Republicans decided it wasn’t good enough. Some GOP members wanted it to go further; some didn’t like the fact that the bill was bypassing the committee process; while others didn’t see the point in wasting time on a bill that would die in the Senate soon after.
With Republican leaders once again discovering that their own members don’t like their own party’s bill, House Speaker John Boehner and his team have no choice but to move to their backup plan. Except, at this point, no one knows what that looks like. Politico reported, “Congress has a debt-ceiling problem again. A big one.”
Boehner, McCarthy and other GOP leaders are refusing at this point to move ahead with a “clean” debt ceiling bill insisted on by President Barack Obama. Senior leadership aides said they couldn’t find the 30 Republican votes needed to join with all 188 Democrats to pass that proposal – a bleak indication of the current state of play.
This is roughly the point where some anxiety starts to kick in.
Democrats won’t negotiate with those who threaten to hurt the nation on purpose. Indeed, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters last week, “Let me be clear, the full faith and credit of the United States of America is not negotiable.” President Obama has been equally clear.
This means, of course, that Congress will have to do what it’s been doing: pass a clean debt-ceiling bill with no strings attached by either party, except GOP leaders insist they don’t have the votes do complete this basic task.
The question is whether or not anyone should actually believe them.
The reason there’s very little panic surrounding this debt-ceiling drama is that nearly everyone – partisans, investors, global financiers, etc. – are simply working from the assumption that Republican leaders are blatantly lying. They say they don’t have the votes, but they made identical claims last year, right before the votes materialized and disaster was averted.
Slate’s Jim Newell had a good piece on this late last week.
Congress last passed a “clean” debt ceiling increase in early 2014 with few votes to spare, 221 to 201. Democrats provided 193 of those votes, Republicans 28 – and a third of those Republican members are no longer in Congress. Now the House has 188 Democratic members. If all of them vote for the clean increase this time, 30 of the 247 Republican members – meaning the 18 members who voted for it last time plus 12 new ones – must join in on the fun. […]Boehner says that he doesn’t have the 30 votes. “Not having the votes,” however, doesn’t mean that Boehner can’t go out there and get them. That only 28 Republicans voted for the increase last year did not mean that the maximum number of willing Republicans was 28. More likely, the vote count crossed the threshold for passage and remaining members took their free “no” vote.
At least for now, everyone is working from a fairly safe assumption: Boehner will whine for a couple of additional days, right before he tells his conference that it’s a bad idea to deliberately crash the global economy. House GOP officials will find a list of members who’ll grudgingly do the right thing; House Democrats will once again play the role of grown-ups; the bill will go to the Senate where Ted Cruz will stomp his feet; and all will be fine by a week from tomorrow.
If those assumptions are wrong, we’re all in a great deal of trouble and it’s time to stack up on canned goods. If the assumptions are correct, we can simply shift our anxiety to the nearing deadline for the Highway Trust Fund, which also runs out of money next week.
Postscript: Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew as an op-ed in USA Today this morning, explaining that Congress has a responsibility to “honor our obligations.”
“We are a nation that pays our bills,” Lew explained. “We shouldn’t let partisan brinkmanship lead us into default.”