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Debt limit linked to vital spending bill in risky political move

Erik Wasson and Billy House, Bloomberg News on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — House Democrats will include a suspension of the U.S. debt ceiling in a must-pass spending bill needed to keep the government open past the end of this month, a risky move that ensures a potentially damaging showdown with Republicans.

The debt ceiling would be suspended through December 2022, which would push that battle past the mid-term congressional elections. The stopgap funding bill, however, would expire in early December, a person familiar with the legislation said, setting up another fight to keep the government operating at the end of the year.

But those dates may not matter with Republicans and Democrats completely at odds over the debt limit. Without a shift in position by one of the two parties, the decision combine the temporary funding measure and the debt ceiling leaves the U.S. on course for a government shutdown and defaults on federal payments as soon as next month.

“This week, the House of Representatives will pass legislation to fund the government through December of this year to avoid a needless government shutdown that would harm American families and our economic recovery before the September 30th deadline,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement. “The legislation to avoid a government shutdown will also include a suspension of the debt limit through December 2022.”

Republicans have said they won’t vote to raise the debt ceiling as long as Democrats are pressing ahead with a partisan tax and spending plan encompassing much of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda. The White House and congressional Democratic leaders have insisted that the debt limit vote should be bipartisan.

The majority party aims to pressure Republicans into backing down on their threat by attaching it to the stopgap bill. The legislation also includes money for hurricane and wildfire disaster aid, which could make the package more difficult for some Senate Republicans — particularly from hard-hit hurricane states like Louisiana — to vote against.

 

Even so, it would likely be difficult to persuade 10 Republicans to vote with Democrats in the Senate, where the package requires 60 votes for passage. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said Republicans would be unified in their opposition to suspending or raising the debt ceiling.

“I don’t know what the end game is, because there’s no precedent for anything so irresponsible,” Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said Monday.

The federal debt ceiling came back into effect, at $28 trillion, in August and the Treasury Department has warned that without congressional action it may run out of extraordinary accounting measures to avoid a payment default as soon as “sometime” in October.

It remains unclear what Democrats plan to do if the bill combining spending and a debt-ceiling increase fails to pass the Senate.

The Democrats could raise the debt ceiling alone, using a separate partisan budget tool known as reconciliation, but have so far declined to do so — arguing that the debt is the responsibility of both parties.

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