As his frustration grows over Congress’s inability to pass either significant part of his “Build Back Better” plan increases, Joe Biden on Tuesday addressed the debt limit problems his administration faced. Biden suggested that the Senate might change its filibuster rule to exempt raising the debt ceiling, allowing Democrats to raise the limit without any Republican support and without using the budget reconciliation process.
He said there is a “real possibility” of such an exemption being passed. The reality is that Democrats require a majority vote to amend the filibuster rules, meaning that if even one Democrat refuses to vote for such a change, an amendment will fail.
Biden seems to forget that at least one Democrat in the Senate has repeatedly said he is strongly opposed to any further changes to the filibuster rule, Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Manchin said as recently as Monday that the filibuster “has nothing to do with the debt ceiling.” He stressed that the Senate has other tools for that purpose. He told reporters to “forget the filibuster.”
This year’s debt ceiling situation sees an evenly divided Senate with the Republican side standing in opposition to raising the limit, at least partially protesting Biden’s $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation proposal. They have blocked a short-term funding bill that included a debt limit suspension through the end of 2022.
Democrats fought back by saying Republicans are threatening disaster. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned of catastrophic damage to the American and world economies in a federal default.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had insisted earlier this week that Democrats use budget reconciliation to raise the debt limit without Republican assistance. That would have allowed Republicans to place responsibility with the Democrats for any adverse effects of the massive spending bill being proposed.
As things turned out, the Senate voted to approve a short-term increase for the debt ceiling Thursday night. Ten other Republican Senators joined McConnell in voting to allow cloture and ending the threat of a filibuster that could have derailed the increase. The bill now moves to the House, which is expected to pass and then is sent to President Biden for his signature.
Manchin had frequently said that he prefers using reconciliation to increase the debt limit. In contrast, Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) had ruled out that possibility, describing the idea as “risky” and a “non-starter.”
If Democrats had failed to use budget reconciliation or a change in the filibuster rule to raise the debt limit and if McConnell had not caved in, Biden and Schumer may have had to face the reality that a compromise with Republicans on spending would have been necessary.