Sep 29, 2021 - Politics & Policy

House Democrats pass bill to suspend debt limit

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

House Democrats on Wednesday passed a bill, 219-212, to suspend the debt limit through December 2022, sending it to the Senate, where it is expected to fail.

Why it matters: Democrats are trying to exhaust all options in order to pass the debt limit on the floor without forcing it to go through the partisan budget reconciliation process, but Republicans continue to obstruct that effort.

  • The vote comes shortly after Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen announced the government will default on its debt on Oct. 18 if Congress doesn’t act.
  • Default would lead to potentially catastrophic consequences for the economy.

What's next: The bill is now on its way to the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will ask for it to be passed with a simple majority vote.

  • However, several GOP senators have already vowed to object to that process.
  • It only takes one objection to force the filibuster, triggering the 60-vote threshold. Then the bill will fail.

Between the lines: Republicans’ repeated insistence on rejecting any attempt to help suspend the debt limit leaves virtually no other option for Democrats than to deal with it through the partisan reconciliation process.

  • Democratic aides tell Axios if they ultimately go that course, the most likely route is Democrats try to pass the measure through a reconciliation package that is separate from the larger, $3.5 trillion social spending package they are also doing via reconciliation.
  • Schumer could also attempt to work out a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), but that seems unlikely at this stage. McConnell has so far insisted he plans to force Democrats to use reconciliation.

Yes, but: Schumer remains adamant that using the reconciliation process to suspend or raise the debt ceiling is a nonstarter.

  • Speaking on the floor Wednesday morning, Schumer said: "This body cannot and will not go through a drawn-out, unpredictable process sought by the minority leader. It risks the full faith and credit of the U.S."
  • Schumer then laid out his calculation for what he anticipates will happen: "As default gets closer and closer to becoming a reality, our Republican colleagues will be forced to ask themselves how long they are going to continue playing political games while the economic stability of our country is at risk."
Go deeper