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Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen testifies before House members Wednesday. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Senate Republicans are feeling far more relaxed about the impending Dec. 15 federal debt-default deadline this time around, with many suggesting the real drop-dead date isn't until January.

Why it matters: Their attitude toward the deadline set by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is distinctively different from the hair-on-fire rhetoric before the initial Oct. 18 date. But a Congress discounting the advice of a Treasury secretary is risky financial practice — and has the potential to affect markets itself.

  • This time, some Republicans tell Axios, they think Yellen may be bluffing with an early deadline, trying to force Congress to act sooner rather than later and not give markets agita over a true default.
  • "They can transfer money from the Highway Trust Fund for it, and take us probably into January," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told Axios.
  • Republicans also appear more open about allowing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to cut a potential deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
  • For his part, McConnell has tamped down the anti-Democratic rhetoric he was using in October.

Between the lines: Yellen continues to warn about the consequences of cutting it too close or missing a debt payment, using her congressional testimony on Tuesday and Wednesday to implore Congress to act.

  • "America must pay its bills on time and in full," she told senators Tuesday. "If we do not, we will eviscerate our current recovery."
  • However, some Republicans are pointing to a section from the Congressional Budget Office's Tuesday's report that stated Treasury could "defer all or part of" the $118 billion the department plans to transfer to the Highway Trust Fund on Dec. 15.
  • If deferred, the "government would be able to pay its obligations for a few weeks longer than it would if the payments were made in full — until sometime in January."

What they're saying:

  • "We're going to have to deal with it at some point, and I'm happy to deal with it sooner rather than later," Cornyn also told Axios.
  • Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.): "I don't know [what the real date is], to be honest," Boozman said in an interview. "You hear those things really from people you respect that January is a big tax-imports month, so I don't know."
  • Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), chairman of Senate Republican's campaign arm, told Axios he doesn't think a default will happen on Dec. 16: "I mean, no one knows," Scott said.

The bottom line: Republicans are giving McConnell a wide berth.

  • "Senator Schumer and Senator McConnell are talking," Cornyn told Axios. "They both seem to be pretty positive in terms of getting something done."

Go deeper

House passes voting rights bill

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The House of Representatives on Thursday passed voting rights legislation, approving a measure that combines the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Amendment Act.

Driving the news: The package will be sent to the Senate, where it faces an uphill battle because of Republican opposition. Democrats are considering changing the Senate's filibuster rules to pass the bill.

Dem Senate candidates rally against “sellout” Sinema

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema enters the Democratic caucus meeting on Thursday with President Biden. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate are now explicitly campaigning against one of their potential colleagues, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — branded by one as a "sellout" for opposing filibuster changes to enact party priorities.

Why it matters: It's an evolution of an increasingly popular strategy among Democrats: turning legislative inaction to their advantage by casting themselves as the "50th vote" for programs or the filibuster changes needed to pass President Biden's agenda.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

Pentagon: 8,500 troops on high alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed 8,500 U.S. troops on "heightened preparedness to deploy" to eastern Europe in case NATO activates its rapid-response force over tensions with Russia, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Why it matters: No decisions have been made to actually deploy U.S. forces, but the heightened alert level will allow the military to rapidly shore up NATO's eastern flank in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. The Pentagon warned that Russia has shown "no signs of de-escalating," and continues to amass troops on Ukraine's borders.