Late Thursday night, the Senate held a vote that allowed the Democratic Party to kick the can down the road on the debt ceiling for another two months.
Some Republicans joined that effort, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Most Republicans did not. The vote was made into a big deal, but in reality, it mattered very little — and McConnell, once again, understood the politics of the moment better than his peers.
Before a single pundit could write a hot take on Republicans’ decision, it immediately didn’t matter. Democratic infighting and disarray took over the news cycle, and things returned to normal.
Democrats want to believe McConnell, and Republicans, “blinked” first in a game of chicken. Yet, it was Democrats who voted unanimously to raise the debt limit. At the same time, Republicans opposed it, and now, Democrats have two more months of fighting with each other to figure out a long-term solution.
The debt ceiling debate is going nowhere, and Democrats lost the talking point that they lacked time to put legislation together. Now, Democrats have to find a way to pass a debt ceiling policy ahead of an election year. They have to do it at a time when no one — from Nancy Pelosi to Chuck Schumer or even Joe Biden’s White House — knows how to do that.
McConnell’s gambit extends their misery and locks everyone onto this path.
There are essentially two options forward now. The first is that Democrats can pass a debt ceiling increase through the reconciliation process, which is perfectly legal and within parameters of Senate policy despite their griping.
The second option: Democrats gut the filibuster process and carve out an exception for debt ceiling increases. Democratic leadership loves this option, and you’ll hear a lot about that in the coming days.
But that second option is dead on arrival for Democrat Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. There are 52 senators opposed to that path forward, potentially more, with those up for re-election next November squeamish about hard votes like this one. And so, that leaves us with the first option.
Democrats will have to find agreement for their awful spending boondoggle and admit that they have to spend a lot of money on the public’s dime to get what they want.
McConnell understands all of this. That’s why his proposal to extend an olive branch here was more about strengthening the positions and leverage of Sens. Sinema and Manchin — he ran the proposal by them before offering it.
The centrist duo holds the keys to the future of the filibuster — which McConnell wants to preserve. McConnell’s already asked his conference to say nice things about Manchin and Sinema. And of course, on the same day as the calls, Manchin announced he did not support altering the filibuster for the debt ceiling.
A two-month punt protects the filibuster while strengthening opposition to the far-left segment of the Democratic Party.
If you doubt this read of the situation, look no farther than Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who, instead of thanking his Republican colleagues, took to the Senate floor to blast them. The Hill reports:
Schumer blasted the GOP debt ceiling strategy, accusing them of playing a “dangerous and risky partisan game” and saying Democrats were able to “pull our country back from the cliff’s edge that Republicans tried to push us over.”
A viral picture taken from the Senate floor during Schumer’s talk was worth 1,000 words. It showed Joe Manchin, head in hands, aghast at the majority leader’s speech. Manchin later called the talk inappropriate and later reiterated his stance on supporting the filibuster.
McConnell supporting Manchin and Sinema comes at a critical moment, too. Democrats, particularly the Bernie Sanders wing, are refusing to condemn harassment of the moderate senators. Democrats are attacking the people they need to pass legislation, whereas McConnell is befriending and supporting them.
The vote McConnell brought doesn’t matter on a policy front, and no one will remember it later. But it does matter in the broader political games played by both sides. Democrats may want to believe McConnell and Republicans blinked on a late Thursday evening, but the reality is far different.
Mitch McConnell locked Democrats into a continuing implosion of infighting, while tossing an assist to Democratic forces friendly to the Republican side. Democrats lost any leverage they had in getting rid of the filibuster, and they lost a talking point with the press that Republicans weren’t helping out.
Now everything is back to square one: Democrats wanted power, they wanted to prove they could shove legislation down people’s throats without building coalitions, and now they’ve got the scenario they believed they could win. Instead of victory, they’ve found bitter disappointment, which is why Schumer can only muster the sour grapes rants of a person who can’t even control his caucus.
As an act of policy, that vote didn’t matter. As an act of politics, McConnell continues to prove he’s the only one thinking long-term, while everyone else is playing catch-up.
The big vote on the massive spending bill still looms, but after Thursday, McConnell did what he could to strengthen opposition to that bill while progressives attack everyone, including their allies, in support of that bill.
Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi will measure the next two months in dog years, not days. And they’ll get to do that with a president who is continuing to sink in approval polls. Two more months of infighting start…now.