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Mitch McConnell Bails Out Chuck Schumer On Debt Limits And Spending

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Just when Democrats and their agenda continue to flounder, along comes Mitch McConnell to give them another lifeline.

Rather than using the mismanagement of the Senate by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to extract concessions, McConnell gave two huge concessions to bail Schumer out of his self-inflicted wounds. A bill introduced on Tuesday would allow for another increase in the debt limit, and forestall expected Medicare reductions that are a sole result of Democrats’ disastrous agenda. It’s all part-and-parcel of the McConnell approach—to lose as efficiently as possible.

Expedited Consideration of Debt Limit

The bill contains two components. One would create a process allowing a “one-time only” increase in the debt limit to pass on an expedited basis in the Senate. The increase must occur between now and January 15, and must contain a whole-dollar amount increase in the limit. The language means that Democrats could not just vote to suspend the limit, and allow the Treasury to incur unlimited debt between now and a certain date.

The one-time debt limit increase resolution complying with this process could pass after 10 hours of debate and without amendment. Effectively, then, passing this bill would allow Democrats to pass the subsequent resolution (likely within the next 7-10 days) increasing the debt limit on their own—i.e., with 50 Democrat votes in the Senate—and without the potential of a Republican filibuster.

I previously explained that, at present, Democrats cannot pass any debt limit increase on their own, unless all 50 Democratic senators agree to abolish the filibuster, which several Democrats have said they will not do. As a result, McConnell and Senate Republicans have immense leverage to demand policy concessions—for instance, a halt to Democrats’ plans to ram the Build Back Bankrupt plan through Congress. Here, as in October, McConnell has chosen not to use the leverage he has.

If you think that’s bad enough, as the old infomercial saying goes, “But wait—there’s more!”

Eventual Repeal of Medicare Spending Reductions

The bill would also delay a series of desperately needed spending reductions scheduled to take place in January and February. The bill would:

  1. Slowly reinstate the 2 percent Medicare sequester between now and June 30. Congress had suspended these 2 percent reductions in last year’s CARES Act, as a way to alleviate pressure on doctors and hospitals when the pandemic first hit.
  2. Adjust another change for Medicare physician payments. Last December’s spending bill prescribed a 3.75 percent payment increase, but only for 2021. Instead of allowing this provision to expire outright, the bill would prescribe a 3 percent increase for 2022, meaning physicians would effectively see a 0.75 percent reduction under this provision next year.
  3. Postpone for one year a 4 percent Medicare sequester, and other reductions to mandatory spending, scheduled to take effect in February under the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go (PAYGO) Act.

This last provision absolves Democrats from the fiscal consequences of their “COVID relief” bill earlier this year. Because that bill increased the deficit by nearly $1.9 trillion, the Statutory PAYGO law would have required the Office of Management and Budget to issue a sequester order earlier next year, mandating offsetting reductions to Medicare and other agricultural programs.

Consider the twisted logic of unnamed aides trying to pitch the advantages of this strategy to the press: “GOP leadership views the agreement as a win for them because…a quicker [debt limit increase] process also lets them [i.e., Republicans] spend more time attacking Democrats over their social and climate spending plan.”

That claim doesn’t pass the smell test, on two levels. First, what better way to attack Democrats over their fiscal policies than to allow reductions in Medicare payments to take effect as a result of those skewed policies? Moreover, as Democrats themselves pointed out earlier this fall, a quicker process lets Democrats spend more time passing their social and climate spending plan.

Keeping Up Appearances

The entire bill follows the McConnell strategy of losing in the most efficient manner possible to a T. First, it allows Republicans to say they voted not to increase the debt limit, but to stop the Medicare spending reductions—and that a process allowing Democrats to increase the debt limit just so happened to get added to the bill.

McConnell’s anger at Schumer over the October debt limit fiasco occurred not because he had to help Democrats raise the debt limit—after all, McConnell has voted to raise the debt limit countless times. Rather, it came because Schumer

  1. Forced McConnell to help pass a clean debt limit increase—one without any “fig leaf” to claim McConnell was voting for something else, on to which a debt limit increase just happened to be attached; and
  2. Proceeded to gloat about it publicly

Second, by delaying rather than eliminating outright the scheduled spending reductions, it allows Republicans to claim that they’re not letting Democrats “off the hook” for the fiscal irresponsibility of their $1.9 trillion budget-busting bill earlier this year. But think about it: If Republicans can’t force these spending reductions to go into effect with a Democratic House, Democratic Senate, and Democratic White House—and Democrats trying to jam through another budget-busting bill on a party-line vote—what chance do you think they will let these spending reductions go into effect early in 2023, particularly if Republicans gain control of one or both chambers of Congress?

Then again, if Republicans act this way, by aiding and abetting Democrats’ fiscal irresponsibility, perhaps they don’t deserve to retake the majority in the first place.