In theory, Congress is a step closer to solving its looming funding and debt crises, while in reality, lawmakers may be no closer at all.
The Democrat-controlled House Tuesday passed a stopgap measure to keep the government funded at current levels until December 3 and also to suspend the debt ceiling until December 2022. Without the measure, government agencies could begin shutting down October 1, the start of the new fiscal year, and the federal government would risk defaulting on its debts likely at some point in the middle of October.
The vote was strictly partisan, 220-211, sufficient to move the bill through the House where passage requires a simple majority. In the 50-50 Senate, however, Democrats will need at least 10 Republicans to reach the 60 votes needed to overcome a certain filibuster, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has repeatedly stated Democrats will get no GOP help in suspending the debt limit.
During debate on the measure Tuesday night, Democratic leaders argued that Republicans should feel an obligation to help keep the country from defaulting on its debt.
“This is not a Democratic debt, it's not a Republican debt,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), “it is our debt, the debt of the United States of America.”
But such pleas went unheeded, and Oklahoma members — all Republicans — stand united in opposing any further increase in the national debt.
“We’ve said, if you are actually adding $3.5 trillion in new entitlements,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), referring to President Biden’s signature Build Back Better human infrastructure package, “you’re responsible for that. We don’t want to be able to be part of that in any way at all.”
Democrats joined Republicans in raising or suspending the debt limit three times during the Trump presidency, in which the national debt increased nearly $8 trillion. But Republicans said that spending, which included the Trump tax cuts and pandemic relief measures, benefitted everyone, while the legislation Democrats are wanting to pass now will hurt everyone.
“This is just an open checkbook for them to spend whatever they want to on everything,” said Rep. Markwayne Mullin, (R-OK2).
“Why do they need our help in increasing the debt ceiling?” asked Sen. Lankford during an interview Wednesday. “They don’t. They have the ability to do it on their own, Democrats have control of the House, the Senate and the White House.”
Historically, increasing or suspending the nation’s debt limit, which has been done scores of times in the last 100 years, has been a bipartisan action, and Democrats said this time should be no different. Both sides are using the situation to make political points; the question is whether either will give in before it's too late.
“At the end of it, if we get into and violate the debt ceiling,” said Sen. Lankford, “I don’t think the American people will start blaming Republicans or Democrats, I think they just say, ‘I’m mad at everybody in DC.’”