WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday said Congress will not vote on raising the debt ceiling in December after all, depriving Democrats of added leverage in negotiating a federal spending bill and other priorities of theirs.
The quiet maneuver by McConnell (R-Ky.) took aim at the victory Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) celebrated last week after President Donald Trump sided with him on tying federal funding, the debt limit and disaster aid into one package — over the objections of McConnell and House Republican leaders.
As a result, Congress faces a December showdown after it passed that package last week, providing $15.3 billion in disaster aid for the Harvey-ravaged Gulf Coast and Hurricane Irma’s destructive path, and extending federal funding and borrowing authority until Dec. 8.
But McConnell on Tuesday said he had added an amendment that allows the government to take extraordinary steps, such as borrowing from federal agencies, to be able pay its bills without borrowing more money until sometime next year. That lessens the pressure Democrats can apply.
McConnell also raised doubts about another agreement between Trump and Schumer — to end the requirement that Congress approve the Treasury Department’s request to raise the federal debt limit to allow it to keep borrowing money to pay the government’s bills.
“As far as the debt ceiling is concerned, as many of you now know, we’ll not be revisiting the debt ceiling until sometime next year. And getting Congress to give up a tool like that would probably be quite a challenging undertaking,” McConnell told reporters.
In an interview with The New York Times, McConnell said Schumer “spiked the ball in the end zone a little early.”
“Democrats were hoping to use the debt limit increase as leverage to get more spending in the year-end budget deal,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a member of Senate leadership. But with a debt ceiling vote pushed to 2018, he said, “it decreases the amount of leverage they have.”
As a result, Thune said, that postponement of the debt ceiling debate “does increase the likelihood that we will get a spending bill that’s going to be more to our liking.”
But Schumer suggested that the Republicans were actually giving Democrats more leverage by doubling the number of must-pass votes on fiscal matters, often referred to on Capitol Hill as “fiscal cliffs,” when asked during a call with reporters about Republican tax overhaul efforts.
“If they used extraordinary measures to extend the debt ceiling, there would be two cliffs instead of one. I don’t know why they’d want to do that,” Schumer said. “It sure doesn’t benefit them and it doesn’t benefit the country.”