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Sept. 16, 2021, 9:24 p.m. EDT

McConnell digging in on debt limit, risking turmoil for Biden

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By Associated Press

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The debt ceiling vote became a political weapon in 2011, wielded by a new class of tea party Republicans eager to confront the Obama administration as the debt load ballooned during the Great Recession. Prolonged and heated discussions during that crisis risked a federal default, a first in the modern era, but eventually a deal was brokered to begin to curtail spending levels.

Democrats note that on three occasions during President Donald Trump’s presidency, they worked with a Republican-controlled Senate and White House to suspend the borrowing limit. They are insisting that Republicans reciprocate and share in what can be a politically unpopular vote that allows the government to not only promptly pay its bills but also to take on more debt.

But in McConnell’s view, if Democrats are going to go it alone to push Biden’s $3.5 trillion budget plan through Congress, they can use their majority to shoulder the debt limit vote.

According to Andres, McConnell told Yellen, “This is a unified Democrat government, engaging in a partisan reckless tax and spending spree.”

An Associated Press analysis of data from the U.S. Treasury shows that nearly 98% of the nation’s $28.4 trillion debt predates Biden’s inauguration in January. That includes about $7.8 trillion heaped onto the pile during Trump’s four-year presidency.

One option would be for Democrats to force the issue by holding a debt ceiling vote either on its own as part of a must-pass bill to keep the government funded pats Oct. 1 — and try to make McConnell and the Republicans blink.

It would take 60 votes in the evenly divided Senate, 50-50, to overcome a Republican filibuster, but it’s not at all clear McConnell or any other GOP senators would break ranks to join Democrats.

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., predicted McConnell will hold firm. “I think he is like that Missouri mule that just sat down in the mud and is not going to budge.”

If Republicans refuse to help, Democrats may need to take the more cumbersome route of amending their $3.5 billion budget resolution to include the debt ceiling. That vote would need just 51 votes for approval, with Vice President Kamala Harris able to cast the tie-breaking vote.

Yellen has been using “extraordinary measures” to conserve cash. But once those measures and cash on hand are fully exhausted, the U.S. will have to rely on incoming receipts to pay its obligations, forcing the Treasury to delay or miss payments. Yellen has projected that moment will arrive sometime in October.

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