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Biden rips GOP on debt ceiling, but Democrats could raise or suspend limit with party-line vote

Democrats are using their legislative majority in the House and Senate to advance a budget reconciliation bill of up to $3.5 trillion without any Republican votes.

Updated: October 5, 2021 - 12:49pm

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President Biden has stepped up his attacks on the GOP over the lack of a debt ceiling increase — but Democrats have the numbers to raise or suspend the debt limit with party-line votes in the House and Senate, as long as they can maintain strict party unity.

Democrats have tried to pass legislation that would suspend the debt limit through December 2022, which is after the midterm elections, but Senate Republicans have declined to supply the votes to overcome a filibuster and move the bill forward. 

"Not only are Republicans refusing to do their job, but they're threatening to use their power to prevent us from doing our job — saving the economy from a catastrophic event," Biden said at the White House on Monday. "I think quite frankly it's hypocritical, dangerous and disgraceful.

"Republicans say they will not do their part to avoid this needless calamity. So be it; but they need to stop playing Russian roulette with the US economy." 

Democrats hope to use their legislative majority in the House and Senate to advance a budget reconciliation bill of up to $3.5 trillion through Congress without any Republican votes. Democratic leaders have proposed several tax increases as part of the package, including a corporate tax rate hike, capital gains tax hike and top income tax bracket increase. To date, Democratic leaders have declined to include a debt limit increase as part of their reconciliation bill.

The proposed bill would create several new federal benefits programs such as universal pre-K, tuition-free community college and Medicare coverage for dental, vision and hearing. The filibuster-proof reconciliation bill is formally titled the Build Back Better Act.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans won't give Democrats the votes to raise the debt ceiling, given that the latter are planning to pass Biden's "socialist" agenda in a massive spending bill with a party-line vote.

"There is no chance, no chance the Republican conference will go out of our way to help Democrats conserve their time and energy so they can resume ramming through partisan socialism as fast as possible," McConnell said.

McConnell wrote to Biden on Monday urging him to proceed with lifting the debt limit unilaterally since Democrats are seeking to pass the $3.5 trillion spending and taxation package without any GOP votes.

"Republicans' position is simple," McConnell wrote. "We have no list of demands. For two and a half months, we have simply warned that since your party wishes to govern alone, it must handle the debt limit alone as well."

Democratic leaders proposed adding to the reconciliation bill a path to citizenship for certain categories of illegal immigrants. The Senate parliamentarian ruled that the immigration proposal would not qualify under the reconciliation rules.

Democrats have the numbers to unilaterally raise or suspend the debt limit as part of the reconciliation bill if they can keep all their members in line, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has so far refused to proceed with that option.

"Now in solving this crisis, this body cannot and will not go through a drawn-out unpredictable process sought by the minority leader," Schumer said last week. "To do this through reconciliation requires ping-ponging separate bills back from the Senate and the House."

According to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the government has until Oct. 18, to raise the debt limit to avoid default.

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