WASHINGTON – Senate Republicans on Monday blocked a spending bill needed to avoid a government shutdown this week and a federal debt default next month, bringing the country closer to the brink of a budget crisis as they refused to allow Democrats to lift the limit on federal borrowing.
With a Thursday deadline looming to fund the government – and the country is approaching a catastrophic debt limit exceedance – the deadlock in the Senate reflected an attempt by Republicans to undermine President Biden and the leading Democrats at a critical juncture as they strive to keep the government running and adopt an ambitious national agenda.
Republicans who voted to raise the debt ceiling by trillions when their party controlled Washington argued on Monday that Democrats must shoulder the full political burden to do so now, given that they control the White House and the United States. two chambers of Congress. Their stance was calculated to portray Democrats as ineffective and excessive at a time when they are already working to iron out deep party divisions over a $ 3.5 trillion social safety net and climate change bill. , and to pave the way for a $ 1,000 billion bipartisan infrastructure measure whose fate is tied to it.
The package that was blocked on Monday, which also included emergency aid to support Afghan refugee resettlement and disaster recovery, would keep all government agencies funded until December 3 and raise the debt ceiling up to late 2022. But after clearing the House bill a week earlier with only Democratic votes, he was well below the 60 votes needed to move forward in the Senate on Monday.
The vote was 48 to 50 to move the measure forward.
The resulting cloud of budget uncertainty marked another challenge for Mr Biden and Democratic leaders, who face an intimidating set of tasks as they push to maintain government funding, collectively garner the votes for the infrastructure bill – also slated for a vote on Thursday – and resolve their disputes over the broader budget plan. They are also due to develop a new plan to raise the legal limit on federal borrowing, which officials say is expected to be reached as early as mid-October.
“It may not be by the end of the week – I hope it will be by the end of the week,” Biden said Monday at the White House, referring to the achievement of all the imperatives that the Congress now faces. Checking the four pieces of legislation, he added: “We are doing it, the country is going to be in great shape.”
Without any of them, Mr. Biden’s agenda and his party’s fortunes would be in jeopardy, a prospect Republicans seemed to enjoy.
Although both parties have voluntarily racked up billions of dollars in debt in recent years, Senate Republicans on Monday presented their refusal to vote for increasing the debt ceiling as a deserved reward for Democrats pushing back the opposition. of the GOP to beef up their domestic spending and multibillion-dollar taxes. plan to increase through Congress.
“We will not be providing Republican votes to raise the debt ceiling,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, repeating a warning he gave for months. He added: “The two-party system is not a light switch – a light switch that Democrats can turn on when they need to borrow money and turn off when they want to spend money. . “
The increase in the debt ceiling is needed to fund past borrowing under the administrations of both sides – not to pay for plans Mr Biden has yet to sign. And so far, there is little awareness or negotiation to break the deadlock.
Still, Mr McConnell sought to present the vote as a test of Democrats’ competence, as he and other Republicans pledged to support an almost identical temporary spending program without raising the debt ceiling.
“We’ll see if the Democrats in Washington really want to rule,” McConnell said.
Democrats rejected this alternative, accusing Republicans of recklessly compromising the country’s full faith and credit. Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York City said the vote would officially put Republicans “in deliberately sabotaging our country’s ability to pay the bills.”
“After today, there will be no doubt which party in this place will strive to solve the problems facing our country – and which party is accelerating us towards unnecessary and preventable catastrophe,” Mr Schumer said. .
Even though the spending measure was inadequate, Democratic leaders struggled to unite their caucus behind the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Moderate Democrats rallied for a vote this week on the legislation, while Liberal Democrats warned they would oppose it without prior action on the $ 3.5 trillion social and economic policy package.
As spending metrics stagnated in the Senate, President Nancy Pelosi of California privately gathered with Democrats to try to break the deadlock. She, Mr Schumer and Mr Biden were also due to speak on Monday, according to an official briefed on the plan.
Yet as of Monday night, it was still unclear how leaders in Congress would handle the urgent legislation to keep the government running. White House officials and Democratic congressional leaders have repeatedly warned of the economic toll of postponing a debt ceiling vote in recent weeks.
It may be America’s most serious debt crisis, with economists and analysts fearing that neither side will slack off before the stock market collapses and the government is unable prioritize sending payments for social security, food aid or assistance to veterans and military spouses. . The most recent projection from the Bipartisan Policy Center, an independent think tank, estimates that the Treasury Department will run out of cash to meet all of its obligations between October 15 and November 4.
Democrats, who helped raise the borrowing limit when President Donald J. Trump was in power, had hoped to pressure at least 10 Republicans to drop the hard line by merging the ceiling provision of the debt with the money their States and the Provisional Government badly need. financing bill. Now they must regroup or face a shutdown by midnight Thursday, an outcome they have vowed to avoid.
Some Democrats have pointed to the failure as further evidence for their argument that it is time to change Senate rules to deprive the minority party of a crucial tool to block legislative action.
“It’s playing with fire so that we risk the full trust and credit of the United States in another damn filibuster,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Second Democrat. “As far as I am concerned, this is positive proof that obstruction does not breed bipartisanship, it creates desperate partisan divisions.
Legislation that did not progress Monday would have kept government funding beyond the start of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1, giving lawmakers more time to negotiate the dozen annual spending bills and increased the limit to ‘loan until Dec. 16, 2022. It also reportedly provided $ 6.3 billion to help Afghan refugees resettle in the United States and $ 28.6 billion to help communities rebuild after hurricanes, forest fires and other recent natural disasters.
Democrats decided earlier this year not to include an increase in the debt ceiling in their budget plan, which could have allowed them to include it in broad domestic policy legislation, which they are pushing through Congress. using a budget process known as reconciliation that protects it from obstruction. .
But it would spark a politically charged vote for their moderate colleagues, already besieged by ads accusing them of fueling inflation by supporting the massive plan to expand health care, public education and climate provisions.
And it would be a complex and time-consuming process, given the strict rules governing reconciliation.