Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before
Wait, the party out of power was complaining about the party in power trying to raise the debt ceiling? What year is it? I feel like we’ve been here before. Some would call this deja vu. Others would call it a glitch in the Matrix. But this is the debt ceiling debacle.
This episode played out predictably. I had trouble deciphering if it was a new one or just a re-run. At the heart of it all was the funding of President Biden’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better budget.
Democrats, the party in power, we’re trying to rally two holdouts in the Senate. And Republicans were running around talking about how the budget would usher in the total ruination of the country. This all made for high drama.
HOLDOUTS 1 & 2
Senator Krysten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona, also known as holdout #1, got jacked up in a bathroom by some citizens who still actually take national politics seriously. Not like literally jacked up, but you know, confronted, politely questioned in public about why she’s stalling President Biden’s budget.
Holdout #2, Senator Joe Manchin, a Republican who identifies as a Democrat, did what he usually does in highly partisan showdown. He got squeamish when Democrats started asking how he’ll be voting. Manchin subjected his fellow Democrats to a lot of public foot stomping over the green energy policies included in the budget. This shouldn’t be surprising. He’s a Democrat from West Virginia, a coal mining state that has voted Republican in every presidential election since 2000.
Meanwhile, Republicans were dealing with their own internal drama. In one breath, it wouldn’t make proper partisan sense to be seen voting with the Democrats. But in another, it also wouldn’t make much political sense to sit back and watch the Democrats nuke the filibuster.
The filibuster is the only weapon a minority party in the Senate has to influence legislation. It takes 60 votes to break one, which is something no party in recent memory has had. So, a compromise is forced. Naturally, the threat of losing the filibuster scared the bee gee bees out of Mitch McConnell. So, he did the unthinkable: he rallied votes on behalf of the Democrats.
In the end, McConnell betrayed his party (their words) and did just enough to throw Democrats some cover fire until December. Instead of actually voting to raise the debt ceiling to cover the budget, Republicans and Democrats agreed to raise it just enough to cover the bills until December. The price – $480 billion.
People who try to make sense of this ask: why when they vote to spend money we don’t have, they just don’t also raise the debt ceiling to cover it?
Related: The Fight for $15
The answer: because there’d be no incentive to curb spending. Imagine if every time you were about to max out your credit card, the bank just increased your credit limit. You know all the trouble you’d get into?
Right now, the federal government is in $28 trillion of trouble, mainly because it has just that – unlimited credit. The debt that incurs is usually only a problem to the party that’s not in control of spending.
Over the years, the rhetoric surrounding the budget and federal spending has degenerated to stomp speeches and red meat for constituents. You can look for this to intensify until one party, probably Republicans, actually do something crazy like block the other party from raising the ceiling. Then all catastrophes will break loose.
But the good people in Washington made sure that is something we won’t have to worry about until Christmas. Think of it as a premature lump of coal in your stocking. In a month and a half, we’ll actually see if they will take all the merry out of Christmas.