Why the Senate isn’t jumping at the chance to end the debt crisis



Still, Tillis and his 48 Senate GOP colleagues are praying that Chairman Kevin McCarthy can beef up during his opening address to give their party a modicum of leverage over the next few weeks. A McCarthy failure would make it much harder for 10 or more Republican senators to win concessions from the president as a condition for raising the borrowing limit.

Yet virtually every Senate Democrat except West Virginia centrist Joe Manchin says there’s no bargaining to be had no matter what happens in the lower house this week. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the House proposal ‘DOA law’ for its bleak prospects of becoming law and reiterated that he would only agree to a ‘clean’ ceiling hike debt.

The yawning gap between parties in the Senate highlights the high degree of uncertainty about how Congress and the White House will emerge from this particular impasse. This is arguably the most important topic of 2023 and possibly the entire two-year session, with massive economic and political stakes for both parties heading into a presidential election year.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) pointedly argued that the House GOP’s eleventh-hour haggling single-handedly invalidated their bargaining position: “This very public display of dysfunction is a clear indication of how badly a negotiation would be.” disastrous. I mean, these guys can’t negotiate with each other.

Murphy advised House Republicans to choose a fight against fiscal austerity, if they so choose, during government funding talks in the fall: “They will lose this fight with the American public, but at least it will do much less damage,” he said. “My feeling is that a lot of Senate Republicans think the House strategy is super dumb and politically toxic.”

A growing number of House Democrats want Biden and McCarthy to sit down and negotiate, but that will likely depend on what may pass the House this week. Across the aisle, moderate Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) advised Biden to “take a good look” at what the speaker can get through, then start haggling.

Whenever this phase begins — if it does — all eyes will be on the Senate and its track record to get Washington out of the jam with bipartisan solutions. Yet, at the moment, there is very little cooking in the chamber negotiation kitchen.

“We should be able to sit down and talk like adults,” said Manchin, who met McCarthy and faces a tough re-election campaign. “Everyone should be involved.”

The current impasse is inextricably linked to the precedent its resolution could set for the upcoming fight against the debt limit. Republicans believe they can’t retreat into this debt crisis without inciting a rebellion from their base, while Democrats believe opening the door to negotiation creates an endless loop of confrontations with the GOP. .

GOP leaders in the Senate bowed twice in 2021 to avoid a debt ceiling breach, and Democrats predict it will eventually happen again. But the actions of the Republican-controlled House so far have made even that outcome hard to imagine, as McCarthy grapples with an issue that could determine the future of his presidency.

That explains why Senate Republican leaders continue to crush any possibility that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is ready to step in and cut a deal amid the staring contest between McCarthy and Biden, who haven’t met on the subject for almost three months.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (RW.Va.) said her party “is going to continue to support what the House has done,” adding that Schumer may step in after the House votes “but I think it’s always going to be McCarthy and Biden” agree to a debt solution.

As Republicans fear allowing another increase in the debt ceiling and sparking another internal fight, Democrats fear a damaging redux in 2011 – when the tea party-influenced House GOP played hardball with Chairman Barack Obama and Vice President Biden. The two sides eventually reached an agreement to extend the debt ceiling, which resulted in significant spending caps.

In retrospect, Democrats view this episode as a mistake that cannot be repeated. Rather than negotiate with McCarthy, centrist Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said simply, “The solution is not to default on debt. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) was equally succinct: “I don’t think there will be negotiations on a budget.”

“It is difficult to understand what the Chamber will do. They can’t pass a signable bill unless they involve Democrats in the process. So I think on our side we’ll try to work with the Republicans to see what we can do,” Cardin said, adding that McConnell “understands the seriousness of this.”

McConnell, however, aligned himself with McCarthy again this week and suggested Biden join the speaker at “the adult table.” The Senate GOP leader went to great lengths to show little daylight with the California Republican after a number of splits last year raised questions about how the two men would govern their gone together.

So, despite the hopes of Democrats, there is no indication that McConnell or his lieutenants are ready to lift a finger at this point.

The House bill “forces the administration to come to the table,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune (RS.D.). “The pressure should really be on the White House.”



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