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McConnell’s Empty Threat on the Debt Limit

In addition to the threat about the spending bill, conservatives have begun to make threats about the debt limit, which will be reached as early as next month. But this threat is considerably less genuine. Pay attention to the language here:

MCCONNELL: There are 53 Democrats and 47 Republicans. My prediction is not a single one of the 47 Republicans would vote to raise the debt ceiling unless it includes with it some credible effort to do something about our debt. Now the House is another matter, I’m just predicitng the Senate Republican votes. I don’t believe Senate Republicans won’t vote to raise the debt ceiling. Now Democrats can raise it themselves if they choose to if they want to and try to do nothing whatsoever about the problem. I think to get any of the 47 Republicans, you’ve got to do something believe is credible –that the markets believe is credible, that the American people believe is credible, that foreign countries believe is credible — in addition to raising the debt ceiling.

McConnell is saying that Democrats would be able to get the votes to raise the debt ceiling with a simple majority. Republicans would not force a cloture vote on the bill. That’s essentially what he’s saying here. This is pretty commonplace for debt limit votes, moreover. When Democrats were in the minority in 2006, they told Republicans they would have to supply the votes to raise the debt limit, but they didn’t force a cloture vote.

McConnell isn’t totally in control of his caucus, so there’s always the possibility that Jim DeMint or Rand Paul or some other rogue actor would filibuster. But McConnell just browbeat the entire caucus into supporting a spending bill that didn’t have a chance to pass. Anyway, as McConnell says here, “the House is another matter.” And House Republicans have consistently said that failure to raise the debt limit would be a calamity. Any debt limit vote that can pass the House will pass the Senate. Senate Republicans may not provide any votes for it, but that’s a political decision. And remember, these are the same Republicans who responded to the attempt to widen the conversation around the budget by saying they only wanted to deal with the non-defense discretionary budget. They are frauds on this issue. But if they want to extract anything for the debt limit vote, the House can do that all by itself.

I don’t see how McConnell’s comments change the gambit here. If Republicans want to force spending cuts through a debt limit vote, they’ll do it through the House. McConnell wants to sound like a tough guy, but by giving the out of “Democrats can raise it themselves if they choose to,” he didn’t even do a good job of that.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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