Oct 7, 2021 - Politics & Policy

No one likes the debt deal

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is seen in silhouette as he walks through the Capitol.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walks though the Capitol on Thursday. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The leaders of the Senate were happy Thursday with their deal to avoid a debt default. They were about the only ones.

Why it matters: The Band-Aid does nothing to solve the debt ceiling problem long term for Americans. Democrats fear it only kicks the can down the road to a very busy December. Republicans, meanwhile, are mad their party blinked.

  • “Why the hell would I make it easier for them to raise the debt ceiling through regular order? We had a strategy and we abandoned it," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told CNN's Manu Raju.

Multiple Senate Republicans are so frustrated by the compromise between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), they not only refused to support the vote but threatened to prevent it from happening via a simple majority.

  • That left McConnell and his team scrambling, hunting for at least 10 members to help push the deal past the 60-vote threshold for major legislation.
  • Those Republicans would be forced to attach their names to an increase in the debt ceiling, even a temporary one — something McConnell had been trying to avoid.
  • In the end, McConnell helped get 61 senators to invoke cloture and bring the deal to a final vote. And then it passed 50-48. The measure moves to the House, where there is a clear Democratic majority to pass it.

Senate Republicans met for 90 minutes Thursday evening. Several expressed their concerns McConnell gave away important leverage as Democrats try to pass President Biden's $3.5 trillion social spending package and $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill before the next debt-limit fight.

  • “I believe it was a mistake to offer this deal," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told reporters. "Schumer was on the verge of surrender. And, unfortunately, the deal that was put on the table was a lifeline for Schumer. And I disagree with that decision.”

Meanwhile, many Democrats are frustrated they didn't take advantage of party unity to more permanently deal with the debt ceiling on their own — especially since pressure to alter the filibuster was picking up steam.

  • "I think the short-term options are not the ideal situation," Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) told Axios.
  • "I think if Senator McConnell tries to run the same play, where he insists that we do it through reconciliation and we insist we won't ... I think we'll come right up against a rule change all over again," Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.).
  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki also had panned the idea of a deal, before it was announced.
  • "If we’re looking at the best options, why kick the can down the road a couple of more weeks?" Psaki told reporters on Wednesday. "Why create an additional layer of uncertainty? Why not just get it done now? That’s what we’re continuing to press for, and that’s our first choice."

The delay has also prompted fresh calls from progressive members to abolish the debt ceiling altogether.

  • "The debt ceiling is not doing anything except giving Mitch McConnell a chance to play politics. We need to get rid of it altogether," said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

What to watch: Despite the Democrats' concerns, the decision buys them time to finalize both elements of the president's Build Back Better agenda.

  • "If we had spent the next two weeks continuing to push through this debt ceiling crisis, we would have no room to work on the president's domestic priorities," Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told Axios.
  • "The practical consequence of only having a month and a half of additional time on the debt is that it puts pressure on folks to come to the table."
Go deeper