(Trends Wide) — Legislators play politics with the pocket of the nation and the clock is ticking.
The timing and tactics of government spending, past, present and future, will converge in a series of tough and flexible deadlines and a huge partisan showdown over the next month, and the end result could be any combination of:
We just don’t know what of all this will happen.
These are the key dates to watch out for:
- September 27th: Self-imposed deadline for the House of Representatives to make decisions on a bipartisan infrastructure deal, unlocking a path for the broader spending bill.
- September 30th: Government funding expires at midnight, which could trigger a partial government shutdown.
- Mid October: The government reaches its borrowing limit, which could trigger the first default in US history and a self-inflicted economic explosion if the country decides not to pay its debts. It could stop payments to federal workers, Medicare benefits, military wages, tax refunds, Social Security checks, and payments to federal contractors.
What must they approve for the country to continue functioning? Democrats have linked the passage of the debt limit and the spending budget, hoping to embarrass Republicans into helping raise the debt limit.
Republicans are determined to carry out Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s threat to make Democrats use partisan parliamentary tactics to fund the government and raise the nation’s debt ceiling.
What else are legislators trying to achieve? There is a bipartisan infrastructure bill to repair the country’s roads and bridges and other needed improvements.
If Democrats succeed in passing that bipartisan infrastructure bill, they could also gain momentum to pass an even larger payment of $ 3.5 trillion in their effort to transform America’s economy toward renewables and address inequality through new spending programs.
Will Republicans allow any of this to be voted on? It’s anyone’s guess, but probably not.
McConnell lobbied Republicans in the Senate to stick together and dismissing the private pleas from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen that not raising the debt ceiling could send the U.S. economy into a spiral. just as you recover from the pandemic.
Will they allow the country to default? It is not clear. For the moment, the GOP’s coordinated blocking of votes to pay off the nation’s debts is an utterly cynical, but perhaps brilliant chess move by a master tactician devoid of sentimental attachment to the pieces, which in this case include the full faith and credit of America.
“Senator McConnell rarely asks us to vote in a certain way, but in this case he has made his wishes known, and I don’t think he’s pretending,” Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana told The Hill. Kennedy, whose state needs the catastrophe aid that is also on that government funding bill, is among the few Republicans who have said they could break with their party and vote with the Democrats. Kennedy said McConnell shows no signs of changing his mind. “It’s like that Missouri mule on this, it just sits in the mud and doesn’t move, and I don’t think there will be 10 votes to pass the (funding bill).”
Why are Republicans in Congress doing this? There are many who are simply opposed to spending. Some objected even when Republicans controlled Washington, though they all found a way to vote for temporary budget-shattering tax cuts. But we won’t have to deal with that for a few years.
Voters blamed Republicans for the last two government shutdowns and there has never been a default on payments. In 2013 and 2018, McConnell was the one fighting for the votes to keep things going and the bills paid.
Now, barely in the minority, he does not feel responsible for finding any votes.
If Social Security can’t send checks and the Treasury Department can’t sell bonds, it’s their fault. If the Democrats can rally their wayward caucus to keep things going, the journey will divide them even more.
McConnell’s bet is that the Democrats end up doing it, giving Republicans a unifying message of fiscal responsibility that will get them out of the Trump era. Better to label Democrats wasteful, even if it means the United States defaults on its debt.
And what about the Democrats? Democrats in Congress are not blameless. They would rather use partisan parliamentary tactics for other things and keep the toxic debt vote separate from their effort to pass a multi-trillion dollar advance to remake America’s economy in an effort to deal with climate change and inequality.
Instead, they have tied the debt ceiling to government funding that must pass, giving Republicans and their own members a “take it or leave it” option.
Closings and defaults are a new trading tactic
Like hurricanes and wildfires in a time of climate change, seasons of cyclical shutdowns for America’s civil service are becoming more frequent and severe.
Lawmakers and the White House used to reach an agreement on public spending every 10 years or so. Now it is every three, more or less.
The House of Representatives website has a list of all the funding failures. We wrote stories like this about the 2013 and 2018 editions of this fiasco.
What’s new in recent years? There is a new and anguished will to add to the equation the threat of default on the national debt.
Trends Wide’s Phil Mattingly reports that Yellen called McConnell to argue that Republicans should at least allow a vote on the debt ceiling.
“The private call served to underscore a public reality: Washington is heading for a debt ceiling debacle that would be catastrophic for both Wall Street and Main Street,” Mattingly wrote.
“What is at stake is much more than a political position or a game. Federal payments to millions of people, from government workers to beneficiaries of Social Security and Medicaid, would stop. The salaries of the military would be frozen. A self-inflicted credit crisis would likely take hold, with rising borrowing costs spreading across all sectors. “
In summary. The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that when Republicans controlled the entire government, some Democrats helped them vote to keep government open and raise the debt ceiling. Republicans don’t feel that obligation.
That’s either a remarkable show of strength in party unity or an indictment of a wholly tribal view of the government, depending on your perspective.
But the winner-take-all perspective is evident in everything from the GOP’s ability to impose justices on the Supreme Court to the concerted effort by many Republicans to overturn the election results. There is no team spirit in America. There is only red and blue.