As debt ceiling vote looms, Democrats reconsider filibuster


WASHINGTON – Leading Senate Democrats increasingly see the Republican blockade on raising the federal debt limit as a clear rationale for changing the chamber obstruction rule, a long-term effort that so far did not receive the unanimous support in their ranks that he would need to be successful.

President Biden, who has sent mixed signals for months on whether he supports removing the filibuster, gave new impetus to the idea on Tuesday when he told reporters at the White House that ‘it was a “real possibility” that Democrats could create an exception to the rules and allow the debt ceiling to be raised by a simple majority.

“It’s not fair and it’s dangerous,” Biden told business leaders on Wednesday of blocking debt legislation through obstruction.

As tensions mounted, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and Minority Leader, on Wednesday sought to defuse the debt fight by giving Democrats more time to find a resolution, pushing back the prospect of a confrontation immediate against systematic obstruction.

Leading Republicans said part of his motivation for the move was concern over the threat of a federal default, as well as fears that Democratic refractories to the filibuster amendment would backtrack under pressure from their party.

Any weakening of the filibuster would significantly reduce Mr. McConnell’s power to block the Democratic agenda. He suggested in the Senate Wednesday that Democrats could orchestrate the debt limit battle to overturn the Senate’s procedural signing tactic.

“It is not clear whether the Democratic leaders have wasted two and a half months because they simply cannot govern, or whether they are intentionally playing Russian roulette with the economy in an attempt to intimidate their own members. for them to go back on their word and ruin the Senate, “he said.

Democrats say it was Mr McConnell who destroyed the Senate using filibuster to thwart their plans.

Under long-standing Senate rules, any member can object to the end of debate on legislation, a practice known as filibuster, which effectively stops a bill in its tracks unless the supporters cannot muster a three-fifths majority – or 60 votes – to move it forward. In the 50-50 Senate, that means Democrats need at least 10 Republicans to join them in breaking an obstruction, on measuring the debt ceiling or whatever.

Democrats, who discussed the prospect at a private lunch on Tuesday ahead of Mr Biden’s comments, say Republican intransigence on the debt limit has provided the best argument yet to curb filibuster .

“More and more people are drawing this conclusion,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Second Democrat. “I think people think the qualified majority on the debt ceiling is a bridge too far.”

Yet, it is not clear whether enough lawmakers are drawing this conclusion. The main obstacle to changing the filibuster has been resistance from centrist Democratic Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and there is no indication that they changed their position in response to the drama. current debt limit.

They argue that the procedural weapon can promote bipartisanship and provide safeguards against extreme actions by either party. Mr Manchin this week dismissed the idea of ​​any change in filibustering the debt limit, but at Tuesday’s private lunch he and Ms Sinema remained silent on the issue. Mr Manchin also said the government should not be allowed to default.

Manchin reiterated on Wednesday that he remained opposed to the review of the filibuster.

“I think I was very clear,” he told reporters. “Nothing has changed.” Ms. Sinema remained silent on the issue.

Democrats urging a change in filibuster rules said they hoped the nature of the debt limit fight, with Republicans’ refusal to negotiate and widespread warnings of global economic calamity if the government did. failing, would persuade the two Democrats that it was time to put their worries aside. and act.

“Republicans are making their case more forcefully than I could a million times on the court,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut and long-time filibuster opponent. “What they’re doing is filibustering and exposing the filibuster completely. And that’s not just an inconvenience. It’s hopelessly dangerous.

Democrats could change the rules through a series of ground maneuvers with the votes of all of their 50 members and the decisive vote of Vice President Kamala Harris. They say any waivers of the debt limit would apply specifically to that legislation and not extend to other measures.

But any move to change the filibuster would intensify Democratic calls to weaken it for other blocked priorities, including a voting rights measure that Democrats say is needed to compensate for election laws in state-led states. Republicans who obstruct the participation of people of color and others. Conservatives fear that if anti-filibuster forces get an exemption for the debt laws, more exceptions are likely to follow.

Mr McConnell threatened to cripple the Senate if Democrats undermine the filibuster. He has said repeatedly that Democrats should instead use the budget process known as reconciliation to raise the debt limit, which would allow them to take advantage of rules that protect certain tax laws from filibuster.

“There’s already an exclusion where Democrats can do it on their own – it’s called reconciliation,” Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney said on Twitter.

But Democrats have so far refused to embrace the idea of ​​using reconciliation, saying it shouldn’t be necessary to go through this legislative feat when the nation faces fiscal disaster. If Republicans don’t want to vote to increase federal borrowing power, Democrats say, they should just allow Democrats to do it themselves.

“Look, the best way to do this is to just get Republicans out of the way,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat and majority leader. “None of them have to vote for a debt ceiling; let the 50 Democrats do it.

Activists have been calling all year for Democrats to get rid of the filibuster so they can advance the party’s agenda while retaining control of Congress and the White House. They seized the debt ceiling deadlock as a new weapon.

“Senate Democrats are rushing for an easy choice,” said Eli Zupnick, spokesperson for the anti-obstruction group Fix Our Senate. “Allow Senator McConnell to explode the economy or finally tackle the outdated and abused parliamentary filibuster of the Senate that gives him the power to do so.” “

Lawmakers have warned that any change to the filibuster could have far-reaching effects and provoke retaliation from the opposing party.

In 2013, Democrats frustrated by a Republican blockade of President Barack Obama’s presidential candidates changed the rules to allow candidates to advance on a simple majority vote. Democrats exempted Supreme Court candidates from the change, but in 2017 Republicans moved quickly to extend the new rules, allowing President Donald J. Trump to sit on three new Supreme Court justices during his tenure without the threat of systematic obstruction.

Some lawmakers are also warning that ending the filibuster would allow one party to erase legislation enacted by the other when it takes power, a prospect that Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama has called “dangerous for both parties”.

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