Democrats tie government funding to debt bill, GOP digs in

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21 (BNA) – Democratic congressional leaders backed by the White House said they will go ahead with the vote to fund the government and suspend the debt limit, with the exception of bold Republicans who say they will vote against it despite the risks of a financial crisis.

Congress is rushing into an all-too-familiar quandary: The federal government faces a shutdown if funding stops at the end of the fiscal year, September 30. Meanwhile, the United States risks defaulting on its debt burden. Borrowing limits are not waived or modified.

All this while Democratic lawmakers work to push through President Joe Biden’s massive $3.5 trillion agenda to “Build Back Better” through the House and Senate with fierce opposition from Republicans, The Associated Press reports.

“The American people expect our fellow Republicans to fulfill their responsibilities and honor the debt they have proudly helped to take on,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement Monday.

From the White House, the president endorsed congressional leaders’ plan to conduct the vote.

“This is a bipartisan responsibility, just as it was under my predecessor,” Biden said in a tweet. “Banning it would be unjustified.”

The scale of the challenges ahead and the speed required to get the job done are unlike anything Congress has faced in recent memory, putting Biden’s entire domestic agenda and the political fate of his Democratic Party at a critical moment.

As the Democrats advance, Republicans, as the minority party in Congress hoping to regain control in the next election in 2022, plan to sit back, watch and wait to see whether Biden and his allies can succeed against the odds — or fail spectacularly.

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Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said he’s not about to help pay off previous debts when Biden is about to pile more taxes and a “reckless” spending package.

Since the Democrats decided to go it alone, they wouldn’t have the help of Senate Republicans in raising the debt limit. “I’ve been explaining this clearly and consistently for more than two months,” McConnell said Monday on the Senate floor.

This week’s vote on funding to keep the government running after September 30th and to allow more borrowing will force the political deadlock open.

The Treasury has warned that it will soon run out of cash and will have to rely on incoming receipts to pay off its obligations, which now stand at $28.4 trillion. This could force the Treasury to delay or miss payments, a devastating situation.

“Doing so would likely result in a historic financial crisis,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

Stocks on Wall Street closed sharply lower on Monday, giving the S&P 500 its biggest drop in four months as concerns about debt-laden Chinese property developers spread across markets, and investors feared the US Federal Reserve would signal it plans to undo some of its Measures of support it provides to markets and the economy.

Raising the debt ceiling was once a routine, and has become the political weapon of choice for Republicans in Washington since the arrival in 2011 of Tea Party lawmakers who refused to allow it. At the time, they argued against more spending and the standoff led to a financial crisis.

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Echoing this strategy, McConnell refuses to give Republican votes, although some Republican senators may have trouble voting no.

The package is expected to keep most spending at current levels on a temporary basis through the end of the year and includes supplemental funds in the wake of Cyclone Ida and other natural disasters, as well as funds to help withstand evacuations from Afghanistan. Dealing with legislative language to allow more borrowing would cover state debt payments through 2022.

Republican Senator John F. Kennedy of Louisiana, whose state was hit by the hurricane and who will run for election next year, said he would likely vote for him if “the disaster relief portion is acceptable.” “Because my people desperately need help,” he added.

When McConnell was in control of the Senate, he relied on Democratic votes to help raise the debt ceiling during the previous administration and Democrats said they expect the same from him now. It normally takes 60 votes to introduce bills in what is now a 50-50 divided Senate, which means at least 10 Republican senators would be needed.

With vote blocking, Schumer said, “What Republicans are doing is nothing less than a meal of historic proportions.”

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Democrats are negotiating among themselves over Biden’s massive $3.5 trillion package, potentially sliding the price to win skeptical centrist lawmakers who view him as too much.

The scale and scope of Biden’s “Build Back Better” initiative cannot be overstated. It touches almost all aspects of Americans’ lives.

Not only does Biden’s plan aim to rebuild the country after the COVID-19 crisis and the economic fallout, it begins to change long-standing federal spending patterns in ways that provide more services to more Americans, and attempts to level the growing income inequality permeating the economy.

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The proposal would impose tax increases on corporations and wealthy Americans who earn more than $400,000 a year and reinvest that money in federal programs for young and old. It will work to increase and expand health, education and family support programs for families, children and the elderly, and strengthen environmental infrastructure programs to combat climate change.

With Republicans closely opposing Biden’s overall vision, Democrats have no votes to spare in the Senate, and only by a small margin of votes in the House.

Pelosi promised a September 27 vote on a companion bill, a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill for public works projects that has broad bipartisan support in the Senate, although House Republicans mostly oppose it.

Although the bipartisan bill should be an easy legislative lift, it also faces political hurdles. Dozens of lawmakers in the Congressional progressive caucus are expected to vote against it if it comes before Biden’s broader package. But centrists will not vote for the broader package unless they are assured that the bipartisan bill will also be included.

RAE

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