President Joe Biden on Tuesday said it was a “real possibility” that Senate Democrats would look to change the filibuster rules in order to overcome Republican opposition and raise the debt ceiling ahead of a fast-approaching deadline.
A change to the filibuster rules would allow Democrats to avoid a potentially catastrophic default less than two weeks away, but every Democratic senator would have to be on board to make the change.
Democrats have the ability to raise the debt ceiling on their own but would need to use a lengthy congressional process called reconciliation to do so. Using reconciliation to raise the debt ceiling could take two weeks — very close to the October 18 deadline laid out by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Changing the filibuster rules would allow Democrats to move much quicker while still only using Democratic votes and Vice President Kamala Harris to pass the debt ceiling hike.
It would nullify the 60-vote requirement to break a filibuster to raise the debt ceiling, allowing a simple majority to do so instead.
One of the fiercest opponents to changing the filibuster rules, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, on Tuesday would not say if he would oppose a “carve out” in the filibuster rules, telling CNN that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell need to cut a deal. The day before he said he was opposed to changing the filibuster rules.
Democrats have been discussing whether it is possible to change the filibuster rules, according to multiple sources at closed-door sessions. At a caucus lunch on Tuesday, Democrats rejected Republican demands to go through budget reconciliation and argued they should not heed the calls of McConnell.
Republicans argue Democrats should handle the debt ceiling on their own by using the budget reconciliation process, which would not require GOP votes. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Schumer have said they are opposed to that idea, and they believe it is Republicans’ responsibility to help pay down debts that were incurred by both parties.
The budget process would require the Senate to engage in a lengthy debate process, two marathon voting sessions known as a vote-a-rama and ultimately would require Republicans to show up in committees to help Democrats advance the process.
Biden on Monday said he couldn’t guarantee the debt ceiling would be raised in time because of “hypocritical, dangerous and disgraceful” Republican opposition.
If a default did occur, it would be the first time in the nation’s history and is expected to be financially catastrophic.
Failure to raise the debt ceiling in time could halt payments that millions of Americans rely on, including paychecks to federal workers, Medicare benefits, military salaries, tax refunds, Social Security checks and payments to federal contractors. It could cause job losses, a shutdown of tens of billions in Covid-19 economic recovery aid still set to be delivered, a near-freeze in credit markets and gross domestic product taking a tangible hit that could last for multiple quarters.
This story has been updated with additional information.
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