The procedural vote Wednesday afternoon on the debt ceiling. The expectation is that it will fail. Republicans will block it, but the hours after that vote is when things will really kick into gear.
A little historical note
“The United States is already on the threshold of a downgrade of its debt,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts. “We don’t have time to mess around any longer.”
The options (from most likely to least likely at this point):
Fellow moderate Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona has expressed deep concerns about changing the legislative filibuster too, but let’s keep an eye on these two because this is a more narrow change.
Democrats cave and do reconciliation: For weeks, this seemed like the most obvious option, but time is really beginning to run out for this. The process is lengthy and complicated. It requires Democrats to say exactly how much they are raising the debt by and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has been leading his caucus in saying he’s not going there.
That’s now changed.
Republicans relent: This is what Democrats hope. They bring House-passed debt ceiling bill to the floor. No Republican forces a 60-vote threshold and Democrats vote to increase the debt ceiling with a simple majority. But, it’s not happening Wednesday. It won’t happen Thursday, and no, it isn’t happening next week, either.
Even if GOP leaders got to a point where they’d let this slide, Roy Blunt, a Republican leader from Missouri, summed it up pretty well: “we really wouldn’t have the ability to control all 50 of our members on this issue.”
See: Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Bill Hagerty of Tennessee (who have been unafraid in the past to hold things up).
Biden does this using the 14th Amendment: There is no evidence that the White House is seriously entertaining this idea, but Senate Democrats have discussed it privately. Within the 14th Amendment, there is a public debt clause that says the “validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debt incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.” Some read this to mean that the President can just keep paying the country’s debts. The potential problem with taking this route is that it would likely end up in court. It’s completely untested for this use, which is why it’s not really on the table right now.
Back to the filibuster change
The opposition to overhauling the legislative filibuster has been steadfast, and it’s been bigger than just Sinema and Manchin. But Democratic leaders’ argument that this is a one-time change just for the debt ceiling is sinking in. Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, who has never been supportive of getting rid of the legislative filibuster, told Fintech Zoom on Tuesday night that all options have to be on the table for the debt ceiling.
“I’m open to anything that is going to deal with the debt ceiling,” she said when I asked her specifically about the filibuster carveout.
Why is this different?
For a lot of moderate Democrats, protecting the sanctity of the filibuster on legislation has always been about both the Senate as an institution and about the country’s national progress from Congress to Congress. If you nuke the legislative filibuster, you would have wild swings in the country’s policies potentially every two years. As has been made clear by several Democratic aides over the last 24 hours, many Democrats view this debt ceiling carveout as separate from going nuclear on the legislative filibuster. They argue that if Republicans used this strategy in two years to raise the debt ceiling on their own, it wouldn’t contribute to any radical swings in policy.