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GOP senators pan McConnell cave on debt ceiling as gloating Schumer adds insult to injury

"Republicans blinked," said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). "I think that was a mistake."

Updated: October 13, 2021 - 11:39pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Republican senators are panning Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell's surrender to Democrats on the short-term debt ceiling increase following a gloating floor speech by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that added insult to GOP injury.

The debt ceiling increase of about $500 billion through Dec. 3 passed the Senate last week and the House on Tuesday.

"I believe Democratic Leader Schumer was on the verge of surrendering," said Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. "Republicans blinked. I think that was a mistake."

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham shared a similar assessment of the situation.

"We made a promise for two months that we would make them [Democrats] do it without our help, and we folded it, and I hate that," Graham said on Fox News. "We're in a hole. We've got to dig out of this hole, and we can. We shot ourselves in the foot tonight."

The Treasury Department had informed Congress that it would need to raise the debt limit by Oct. 18.

McConnell repeatedly said that Republicans would not supply votes for Democrats to suspend the debt ceiling through December 2022 so long as they continue to unilaterally pursue a massive $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill with new spending programs.

Last Thursday, McConnell agreed to a short-term debt limit increase through Dec. 3. But with an agreement in hand, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer spiked the football, bashing the GOP on the Senate floor ahead of the vote on the agreement.

"Republicans played a dangerous and risky partisan game, and I am glad that their brinksmanship did not work," Schumer said. "Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans insisted they wanted a solution to the debt ceiling — but said Democrats must raise it alone by going through a drawn-out, convoluted, and risky reconciliation process."

Schumer's speech was met with bipartisan criticism.

"We have to de-weaponize," said West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who had his head in his hands as Schumer gave his speech. "You can't be playing politics. None of us can — on both sides. Civility is gone."

Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney also criticized Schumer's speech.

"There's a time to be graceful and there's a time to be combative, and that was a time for grace," he said. 

Schumer's speech prompted McConnell to send a letter to President Joe Biden vowing again not to supply GOP votes for the debt limit suspension ahead of the next deadline.

"This childish behavior only further alienated the Republican members who helped facilitate this short-term patch," McConnell wrote. "It has poisoned the well even further. I am writing to make it clear that in light of Senator Schumer's hysterics and my grave concerns about the ways that another vast, reckless, partisan spending bill would hurt Americans and help China, I will not be a party to any future effort to mitigate the consequences of Democratic mismanagement."

McConnell also told Biden that his "lieutenants on Capitol Hill now have the time they claimed they lacked to address the debt ceiling through standalone reconciliation, and all the tools to do it. They cannot invent another crisis and ask for my help."

McConnell reportedly told his caucus that part of the reason he agreed to a short-term debt limit hike was to take some pressure off of Democratic Sens. Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who support maintaining the legislative filibuster while the majority of Senate Democrats oppose it.

Graham said the argument that the short-term debt deal would help maintain the filibuster was "not a very good reason" to blink.

Graham pointed out that former President Trump wanted the GOP to eliminate the legislative filibuster when they were in the majority but the GOP refused.

"At the end of the day, we cannot be extorted and live this way," he said. "We should have stood our ground and played this out. I don't believe they would have blown up the Senate over this."

Cruz said Democratic leaders threatened to eliminate the filibuster if there was not a debt limit deal.

"I understand why leadership did that," he said. "I think it was a mistake. Unfortunately, Republican leadership blinked in the face of the Democratic threat to nuke the filibuster."

Manchin has said he still supports maintaining the legislative filibuster.

"The filibuster is the only thread that we have to keep democracy alive and well in America," he said. "It keeps us the body that we are. We have to work together. That's all."

The short-term debt limit deal sets the stage for another showdown before Dec. 3. The national debt is currently close to $29 trillion.