Mitch McConnell is threatening us with a global financial crisis

… But it provides the Democrats with an opportunity

Connor McNamara

Thanks to Mitch McConnell, we had only days to spare before the United States budget defaulted and plunged us into a global financial crisis.

On Oct. 7, the Senate approved an extension of the debt limit until December, lengthening the timeline for Congress to pass a more permanent solution. McConnell had refused to provide bipartisan support for a vote to halt a budget default for another two years, and only relented to this short-term solution after a small group of Republicans broke ranks.

On Dec. 3, Congress will be faced with the same problem and a major decision on what to do about it.

The debt limit is the maximum amount of money the government can borrow. Since it spends much more money than it makes, the cap is high and must be raised often by Congress. The United States has never defaulted on its debt, and if it does, the effects could be dire.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned of “catastrophic consequences,”saying “it would be disastrous for the American economy, for global financial markets, and for millions of families and workers whose financial security would be jeopardized by delayed payments.”

And the entire wound would be self-inflicted. That’s what Mitch McConnell almost caused by refusing to raise the debt limit. 

He claims he resisted the vote because the Democrats are in power, and thus bear the entire responsibility for the budget and should have used the reconciliation process to unilaterally halt a default. This ignores the fact that in the past, raising the debt limit has been a bipartisan activity. Moreover, the accrued debt in question was actually that added under the Trump administration, when McConnell was majority leader.

Using reconciliation is not the correct decision either. For one, the process is time consuming and complicated, and would risk not meeting the deadline. 

Furthermore, the demand was pure political calculation by Republicans. They would have used it to falsely tie the raising of the debt to Democratic bills and try to frame it as a sign of fiscal irresponsibility.

Luckily, McConnell caved. The reasons for this are numerous and range from the obvious damage caused if the game of chicken actually caused a financial crisis, to realizing he could punt the issue closer to election season. But the most interesting reason was his fear of the Democrats’ plan B: carve out an exception in the filibuster for debt ceiling votes.

The filibuster is McConnell’s baby, and the single reason Republicans have been able to stall so much important legislation for so long. But it has its defenders on the other side of the aisle as well, with Senators like Joe Manchin wary of removing it altogether.

President Biden has also been hesitant to propose any changes to the filibuster rules – until now. On Oct. 5, when asked by a reporter, he stated that ending the filibuster requirement for the debt ceiling was “a real possibility.”

This is the perfect opportunity for congressional Democrats to legitimately ease some of their more reluctant members into supporting the amending – or even erasing – of the filibuster. The Republicans have almost given them no choice but to do so in this situation. If McConnell doesn’t back down in December, Democrats in the Senate will have to do something – or watch the global economy buckle.

So go ahead McConnell. Make Joe Manchin and the other moderates take on the filibuster. Let them get used to not needing a supermajority for every vote. I guarantee you, they’ll like the feeling.