McConnell might have given way under pressure from business leaders and rich donors who have been hammering Republicans to not play Russian roulette with the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. Just hours earlier, President Biden, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondoc virtually met with, as Biden put it, “leaders of some of America’s most important businesses and institutions” on the need to discuss the need to raise the debt limit. This included AARP, Bank of America, Citibank, Deloitte, Intel, JPMorgan Chase, Nasdaq, the National Association of Realtors and Raytheon.
Citigroup chief executive Jane Fraser chimed in with her own warning: “Every day of delay right now comes with an increase in price, as we’ve begun to see in the markets already, starting last Friday,” she said. “America certainly cannot default on the debt because the U.S. Treasury market is the bedrock of our financial system domestically and globally, and defaulting is going to cause lasting damage to the credibility of the United States with investors and in financial markets around the world.”
McConnell may also have been nervous that Biden would make good on his suggestion that carving out an exception to the filibuster to avoid default might be possible. That certainly got the Republican leader’s attention, who grumbled that Democrats were putting too much pressure on centrists who objected to filibuster changes. Translation: The threat of default might be what Democrats need to convince all 50 members to punch a hole in the filibuster. And if they do it for this, voting reform might be next.
On one hand, lawmakers may replay this same game of chicken in December if both sides agree to a short-term extension. But McConnell will no longer have the argument — at least a coherent one — that Republicans will not play a role in extending the debt ceiling. Frankly, if he agreed to two months, why not two years?
He also seems not entirely certain that Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) will indefinitely resist efforts to “reform” the filibuster. Given that, Democrats in future faceoffs — whether it’s on the debt or voting rights — should stick together and raise the threat of a filibuster exception so long as Republicans refuse to act in a responsible fashion.
McConnell is right to be concerned that he has worn out the filibuster card with Manchin, specifically, who has watched Republicans deploy the filibuster to prevent a bipartisan inquiry into the domestic terrorist attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6 and refuse even to begin debate on voting rights. The New York Times quotes Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the No. 4 Republican in the Senate, who warned that if Democrats change the filibuster rule, "they’ll permanently change the Senate, permanently change the relationships that still matter in the Senate, and institute the idea that 50 of you plus a vice president of your party can always do whatever you want to do.” I think he’s got it.
Manchin may soon realize that he has as much leverage with Republicans eager to keep the filibuster firmly in place as he does with Democrats.