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Where Is the Democratic Agenda Headed?

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23.09.2021

We are at the outset of what promises to be a frenzied and confusing fall on Capitol Hill, with a lot on the table and a lot of posturing over every part of it. No one can say with any confidence quite where things are headed; I certainly can’t. But here are five observations about what seems more and less likely and why, for what they are worth.

First, I think the Democrats are going to end up raising the debt ceiling on their own, in a stand-alone reconciliation bill they will push in parallel to their ongoing efforts to pass a massive social-spending reconciliation measure. They can do that alongside their ongoing work on the larger bill, though it will require revising the reconciliation instructions for the year. Section 304 of the 1974 law that created the current budget process allows for this, though it is no simple matter. Among other things, it would expose the Democrats to an extra round of votes on uncomfortable amendments (a so-called “vote-a-rama” in the Senate). And it will also take time. Back when I was a lowly House Budget Committee staffer, my boss used to say that complicated bicameral maneuvers like this would take “more than a week but less than a month.” That seems about right here. That means they do have time to do this, and claims to the contrary at this point are so much spin. But it also means they should start fairly soon.

The Democrats don’t want to do this, not only because they don’t want that extra round of votes but also because they believe it would require them to settle on an amount by which to raise the debt ceiling before they have come to any agreement among their party factions about how much to spend on the larger reconciliation and on what. (It is a widely held view in the Senate, though it isn’t rooted in any parliamentary precedent and hasn’t been tested, that a reconciliation bill has to increase the debt limit by a particular amount, rather than suspending it until a particular date.)

But unpleasant or not, the Democrats are likely going to have to do this on their own. The fact is that they have chosen to use an exceedingly narrow congressional majority to push through an exceedingly partisan agenda on their own, and that means they’re going to need to handle the debt ceiling on their own too. They have the means to do it, and they don’t have the means to force Republicans........

© National Review


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