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Democrats rush to new fiscal cliff

“No one is blinking in the short term. But at the end of the day, we have to raise the debt ceiling,” said Representative Don Beyer (D-Va.), Who chairs the Joint Economic Committee. “But it could be after dinner on September 30th.”

Government funding runs out in just 18 days, and the Biden administration says the debt ceiling must be lifted soon after – with Republican Senate votes that GOP leaders say they won’t provide. Plus, the House doesn’t return until September 20, leaving little time to get the trains running, as President Joe Biden faces the worst approval ratings of his young presidency.

House Democrats plan a vote in the week of September 20 to likely extend government funding until December 10 and have discussed raising the debt ceiling, disaster relief and aid to the government. withdrawal from Afghanistan, according to advisers. They hope that pairing the debt limit with a bill to prevent a government shutdown, as well as disaster relief, will prevent Republicans in affected areas like Louisiana and Mississippi from voting no.

No final decision has been taken and success is far from guaranteed. But even with the unilateral power to manage the debt ceiling on their own, Democrats say they don’t want to set the precedent that a party should tackle the debt ceiling when it is in charge.

Republicans “have voted in many cases for the programs and tax cuts they gave under the Trump administration that contributed to the debt. So they have to be equally responsible, “said Sen. Bob Menendez (DN.J.)” Because if we start with a process where the two sides will not come together to deal with the debt ceiling, then each once there is a different majority, they will face the same challenge. “

President Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.) vaguely discussed several options to raise the debt ceiling, but insisted they would not stick it in a draft. law that passes on party lines via budget reconciliation. Instead, they’ll ask for GOP support, which Republicans say simply won’t materialize due to the Democrats’ big spending program.

On the contrary, Senate Republicans say Democrats should simply raise the party debt ceiling as part of their plans to spend up to $ 3.5 trillion on education, climate change and health care. while raising taxes for the rich. But this solution is also not feasible at the moment: several moderate Democratic senators are unwilling to support a unilateral increase in the debt, according to a Democratic assistant.

These Democrats want Republicans to own the increased debt as well, given that significant spending was incurred under former President Donald Trump. And Democratic leaders rejected the idea of ​​pairing the reconciliation bill with the debt ceiling last month, fearing it would further hamper the passage of their already labyrinthine social spending plan.

Democrats’ options include tying the increase in the debt ceiling to a short-term government funding bill – marrying it with hurricane aid and aid to Afghan refugees – or holding a stand-alone vote and daring the Republicans to reject it. They could also try to negotiate with the GOP to combine certain Republican priorities, such as defense spending, with an increase in the debt ceiling. When in the minority, Democrats helped former President Donald Trump raise the debt ceiling by making bigger budget deals with Republicans.

“I hope Republicans act equally responsibly,” Pelosi told reporters. “People say, ‘Oh, you just wanna spend the money.’ No, we’re paying off the credit card, the Trump credit card, with whatever we would do to raise the debt ceiling. ”

But Republicans are maintaining their hard line as Congress prepares to end its long August recess. In an interview with the Louisville Courier-Journal this week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Said, “The debt ceiling must be raised. The problem is who should do it.

“In these unprecedented circumstances, it is [Democrats] obligation to do so. And they have the voices to do it, and they will at some point, ”said McConnell.

Schumer called McConnell’s position “the height of irresponsibility.”

“We Democrats when Trump was President… voted three times to raise the debt ceiling. We could have played the same game. But we realized that we have obligations to the country and to the financial strength of this country, and not just through politics, ”Schumer told reporters.

For Democratic leaders, the approaching deadline collision at the end of this month promises a showdown in September that rivals all the previous closure threats and funding woes that Congress has faced.

Democrats are quickly trying to push forward their massive social spending plan, a key part of Biden’s domestic policy agenda, before turning to the more routine job of funding the government and hedging the country’s debt obligations.

Pelosi and his leadership team attempt to balance the demands of the two competing caucus factions – the progressives and the centrists – as they strive to enact both the broad social plan and the bipartisan infrastructure bill. passed by the Senate later this month.

Progressives have vowed not to back the Senate infrastructure bill in a vote scheduled for September 27, unless much broader social policy legislation is also prepared for a vote.

Democrats publicly insist they are on track to vote for the up to $ 3.5 trillion bill in the House later this month. But top Democratic advisers are already privately predicting that the schedule is likely to slip by several weeks as House leaders continue to clash with Democrats in the Senate and the White House. on the main political disagreements.

And, as they face these internal challenges, a major partisan showdown with Republicans awaits over debt.

“The full faith and credit of the United States is at stake, and we must do our job,” said Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Who, like many senators, focused more on the bill on social spending. the August holidays as the next deadlines. “I don’t know as well which vehicle would be the best. But the job has to be done. “

Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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