The timing and tactics of government spending – past, present, and future – will converge into a string of hard and loose deadlines and massive partisan deadlock over the next month, and the end result could be any combination of:
We just don’t know how it’s going to play out.
- September 27: Self-imposed deadline for the House to act on a bipartisan infrastructure deal, paving the way for a bigger spending bill.
- September 30: Government funding expires at midnight, which could trigger a partial shutdown.
- Mid-October: The government hits its borrowing limit, which could trigger a first US default and self-inflicted economic explosion if the US chooses not to pay its bills. It could suspend paychecks to federal workers, medicare benefits, military salaries, tax refunds, social security checks and payments to federal contractors.
What must happen for the country to continue to function? Democrats have tied the debt limit and must-have spending, hoping to shame Republicans by helping to raise the debt limit.
Republicans are determined to implement Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s threat to force Democrats to use partisan parliamentary tactics to both fund the government and raise the country’s ceiling.
Will Republicans allow votes on all of this? It is to be determined, but probably not.
McConnell is pushing Republicans in the Senate to stand united and push back private pleas from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen that failure to raise the debt ceiling could spiral the US economy as it recovers of the pandemic.
Are they just going to allow the country to default? Not clear. For now, the coordinated blockade of GOP votes to pay the nation’s bills is an utterly cynical but perhaps brilliant chess move from a master tactician freed from sentimental attachment to coins, which in this case include the full faith and credit of the United States.
Why are Republicans in Congress doing this? There are many who are simply against spending. Some opposed it even when Republicans controlled Washington, although they all found a way to vote for temporary tax cuts that break the budget. But we won’t have to deal with it for a few years.
Voters blamed Republicans for the last two government shutdowns and there has never been a default. In 2013 and 2018, McConnell was the one vying for the votes to make things work and get the bills paid.
Now barely in the minority, he does not feel responsible for finding votes.
If Social Security can’t send checks and the Treasury Department can’t sell bonds, it’s their fault. If Democrats can pull their rowdy caucus together to get things done, the trip will divide them further.
McConnell’s bet is that Democrats will eventually swallow it and do it, giving Republicans a unifying message of fiscal responsibility to bring them out of the Trump era. Better to call Democrats wild spenders, even if that means the United States is defaulting on its debt.
And the Democrats? The Democrats in Congress are not blameless. They would rather use partisan parliamentary tactics for other things and separate the toxic debt vote from their efforts to put down a multibillion dollar down payment to rebuild the US economy in a bid to tackle climate change and inequality. .
Instead, they tied the debt ceiling to must-have government funding, giving Republicans and their own members a take or leave choice.
Stops and Flaws are a New Trading Tactic
Like hurricanes and wildfires in times of climate change, the cyclical seasons of US government shutdown are becoming more frequent and severe.
Lawmakers and the White House used to run up against government spending every 10 years or so. Now it’s all three or so.
What’s new in recent years? There is a distressing new desire to add the threat of national debt default into the equation.
CNN’s Phil Mattingly reports that Yellen called McConnell to argue that Republicans should at least allow a debt ceiling vote.
“The private appeal served to highlight a public reality: Washington is heading for a debt ceiling debacle that would be catastrophic for Wall Street and Main Street,” Mattingly wrote.
“The issue is much more than a political stance or a game. Federal payments to millions of people, from civil servants to social security and Medicaid recipients, would be interrupted. Military salaries would be frozen. Self-inflicted credit would likely take hold, with increased borrowing costs spillover across industries.
At the end of the line. The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that when Republicans controlled all of government, some Democrats helped them vote to keep government open and raise the debt ceiling. Republicans do not feel such a duty.
It’s either a remarkable show of force in party unity or an indictment of an entirely tribal view of government, depending on your perspective. But the win-win perspective is evident in everything from the GOP’s ability to pass Supreme Court justices to the concerted efforts of many Republicans to overturn the election results. There is no American team spirit. There is only red and blue.