Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is the longest-serving Republican leader in history. He was first elected to the United States Senate in 1984. Serving in such roles as majority whip, minority leader, and majority leader throughout his political career. However, at 79 years old, he was confronted with another recurrent headache. Not from Democrats, sparring with Democrats is familiar territory, but from within his caucus. Indeed not unfamiliar territory but more complicated.
Congress was tasked with a December 15th deadline to resolve the debt ceiling dispute following a temporary extension in October. After weeks of negotiations and discussions, Mr. McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer agreed on a two-step process to raise the debt ceiling. First, a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority would be required to advance the bill, which would allow for a second vote on increasing the debt ceiling—only requiring a simple majority to pass. Democrats would need to specify an exact amount to raise the debt ceiling. The bill also prevents cuts to Medicare which put many Republicans in a difficult situation.
The House of Representatives passed the bill on a 222-212 vote. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois was the only Republican who voted in favor.
While Mr. McConnell received intense backlash from his party over the proposal, the debt ceiling standoff ended when the Senate advanced the bill 64-36. 14 Republicans voted to advance the bill exceeding the required 60-vote threshold. The Senate voted 59-35 on the final passage of raising the debt ceiling later the same day, only requiring a simple majority.
Despite the internal strife Mr. McConnell was able to avoid a fiscal and political catastrophe. If common sense were prevalent, raising the debt ceiling would not have required this convoluted process. Instead, Mr. McConnell played a crucial role in starting and ultimately ending this unnecessary debacle.
Republicans attempted to create this transparent facade portraying themselves as fiscally responsible overlords of the United States. Republicans argued that the party in power should be solely responsible for raising the debt ceiling. However, lifting the debt ceiling does not authorize new spending. Instead, it allows the Treasury Department to pay for already approved spending. In essence, Republicans were refusing to pay for debts they were, in part, responsible for incurring. Please make no mistake about it Republicans are profligate deficit spenders. There would be no qualms about deficit spending if it benefited their political objectives.
Mr. McConnell drove home that Democrats would not receive any Republican support in increasing the debt ceiling. Republicans demanded Democrats do so through reconciliation. Republicans were offering to expedite the process but vowed not to vote in favor. 46 Senate Republicans signed a pledge to abstain from increasing the debt ceiling.
Mr. McConnell eventually had an awakening and realized this childish acrimony had the potential to backfire. Forcing Democrats to raise the debt ceiling on their own was a flawed tactic from the onset. It would have harmed Republican 2022 electoral hopes. No one in their right mind would have viewed this as Republicans doing the right thing for the country’s fiscal stability. On the contrary, it would have brightened a bleak midterm outlook for Democrats. Democrats, on the other hand, would have gained a political advantage of being seen as the party who refused to play politics on an issue that should be without ideologically driven obstruction. Nothing positive comes out of a forced default or a down to the wire politically driven drama for Republicans. Even if I attempted to play devil’s advocate, I could find no justification. Mr. McConnell must have come to the same conclusion.
Unlike Donald Trump, Mr. McConnell is politically savvy. Obstructing Democrats is, for the most part, a unified effort amongst Republicans, and Mr. McConnell has made a career in doing so. Knowing when to back off is a lesson that more Republicans would benefit from learning. On Build Back Better utilize every avenue and maneuver available to block its passage. That’s politics and is fair game in the arena of politics. On the debt ceiling? Never.
Image Credit: “Mitch McConnell” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
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