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Has Mitch McConnell given in on the debt ceiling? Do Democrats? Who cares, it’s just stupid.

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The current stalemate in raising the national debt limit is not just the stupidest stalemate that ever existed in raising the debt ceiling. It’s not just the stupidest homemade congressional crisis in recent times. It’s one of the stupidest situations ever 100 random people have gotten themselves into. In this case, unfortunately, the 100 people are US Senators responsible for upholding the full faith and recognition of the country.

And by late Wednesday afternoon they seemed to come to a suitably stupid, temporary solution when the crisis peaked and for them the most alarming crisis of all – the risk of losing the next week’s break – do it in one a few months again.

While it has been done elsewhere, it is worth digging deeper into what makes this particular debt ceiling so very, very stupid.

The last major battle over the debt ceiling in 2011 was the stupidest thing that had happened up to that point. When we see what we’ve seen now, it looks like a Jefferson-Hamilton negotiation. The Republican-led House of Representatives wanted spending cuts and took federal credit lines hostage – which created the risk of a US Treasury default with catastrophic consequences for the US and the global economy – to secure them. Those weren’t fun times. But at least it was a negotiation between counterparties with discrete policy requests. The two sides finally agreed on annual spending caps, which were then adjusted each time they came into force.

This time it is the Senate Republicans who are taking the hostages and they “have no list of demands,” as Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said in a letter to President Joe Biden earlier this week. The only restrictions on Republicans are procedural: they insist that the debt ceiling must be raised, but they will not offer a single vote for it. They want the Democrats to raise the debt ceiling themselves so they can insincere argument in campaign ads next year that “the Democrats added $ X trillion in debt.” (Raising the debt ceiling does not increase debt. It only allows the Treasury Department to fund existing commitments that Congress has already approved.)

The Democrats have agreed to cast the votes themselves, but that’s not enough for McConnell. Instead, he has insisted that they do so through the filibuster-free reconciliation process rather than normal procedures. Republicans want this for a number of reasons. First, it’s a tedious, tangled process that would take a long time and allow Republicans to cast difficult messaging votes, just as Democrats are trying to focus on getting their Build Back Better agenda off the ground. The other is that a reconciliation for stupid (stupid !!) parliamentary reasons would force Democrats to raise the debt ceiling to a certain number instead of suspending it by a certain date.

Not all Democrats, but some, are afraid of raising the debt ceiling to a very frightening number with no political backing from GOP members. Republicans are ridiculously trying to force Democrats to do something they all agree must be done through an intricate process in order for them to get Democrats to “own the number”. But they only get away with it because some Democrats ridiculously care about it.

At an even more primitive level of politics, however, pride matters. The Democrats are passionate about the Republicans not being allowed to play them with the Democrats under Biden as they did not play those aggressive debt ceilings with the Republicans under Trump. Worse for these Democrats, Mitch McConnell is telling the Democrats to do something, and the Democrats cannot.

The Wednesday morning deadlock looked like this: Senate Republicans were determined not to offer a single vote and would thwart any attempt by the Democrats to raise the debt ceiling through normal procedures in order to force the Democrats to start the reconciliation process. The Senate Democrats were determined not to raise the debt ceiling through reconciliation under any circumstances. The Democrats began arguing about killing the Filibuster for raising the debt ceiling, but it was by no means clear that they could garner the votes for it.

McConnell made the Democrats an offer with a few options.

One possibility was that the Republicans would not drag the reconciliation process out if the Democrats used it to raise the debt ceiling. The other was that Republicans would allow Democrats to pass a short-term increase by December by regular order to give Democrats more time to make a long-term increase through reconciliation.

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Many Democrats were outraged by the offer when they first heard of it.

“What kind of offer is that?” Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono told reporters. “That’s nonsense.”

However, after an emergency meeting, the Senate Democrats appeared in the Senate to declare victory, suggesting that they could live with McConnell’s offer of a short-term hike – but still never get a long-term hike through reconciliation.

“McConnell gave in,” Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren told reporters after the meeting. The short-term increase would give them time to focus on getting their Build Back Better Act passed in the meantime.

That two-month punt, assuming they can close the deal in the next few days, isn’t worth discussing winners and losers, whoever was given in or rolled. Such analyzes should be saved after a crisis is over, and it certainly is not. In December, that stupid stalemate over the process of getting something everyone approves passed will be right where the Senators leave this week.

The only sure bet is that it’ll get more stupid.

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