Here’s how we got to this crazy week — and what could happen if lawmakers don’t get it done.
Monday: Senate Republicans blocked a funding bill to keep the government open
That’s because it includes language to suspend the debt ceiling through next year so the Treasury Department can borrow money to pay its existing debt. Republicans are refusing to provide votes to raise the debt ceiling (normally a bipartisan vote).
In the House, lawmakers started debating a bipartisan infrastructure bill to vote on it this week. It already passed the Senate, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has held it up for more than a month in the House as liberals threaten not to support it. They want Democrats to prioritize their massive spending bill first.
Tuesday: Senate Democrats pressured Republicans to raise the debt limit
After Monday’s failed vote in the Senate to keep the government open and raise the debt ceiling, Democrats spent this day testing Republicans’ resolve. Congress’s inability to raise the debt ceiling in the next few weeks could plunge the United States into an immediate recession.
“I think Republicans may be a little bit crazy, but they’re not that crazy.” That’s Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) recently, saying he thinks at least 10 Republicans will come around to helping Democrats vote to suspend the debt ceiling and keep the government open by Thursday.
But will they?
“Do you guys think I’m bluffing?” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the architect of his party’s strategy not to provide votes for the debt ceiling, asked Punchbowl News recently.
Senate Democrats needed to make a big decision quickly. Do they acquiesce to Republican demands and try to approve a debt ceiling suspension on their own? Or do they continue to pressure Republicans to help out and tie the debt ceiling to a vote to keep the government open?
It’s a game of chicken that could lead to a government shutdown on Democrats’ watch. Democrats say they are determined not to let that happen.
Wednesday: Democrats decide to go it alone on the debt ceiling
Their pressure campaign on Republicans having failed thus far, Senate Democrats are quickly reworking all their plans to avoid the government shutting down this week and a catastrophic default on U.S. debts next month.
Democrats put together a government funding bill that doesn’t mention the debt ceiling. but a series of snags and a congressional tradition — the annual baseball game — forced the Senate to hold off until Thursday, just hours before a shut down. This bill will also have to pass the House.
Once the government is temporarily funded, Democrats will be working to raise the debt ceiling on their own. They’re up against a clock. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that the government will run out of authority to pay its bills on Oct. 18.
To dodge a Republican filibuster on any effort to raise the debt ceiling, Democrats may have to perform a tricky budgetary maneuver, known as reconciliation. Democrats aren’t so sure this can be done on time, and they’re furious at Republicans for making them take this risk. Schumer has repeatedly said he’s opposed to do it this way, still hoping Republicans will back down by mid-October rather than have the U.S. default on its debts.
But that will be a fight for another week.
Thursday: The deadline to fund the government
While a government funding bill is racing through both chambers today, the House is debating how to pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill and Democrats’ massive social-safety-net legislation. That’s created some ultimatums in the party that, to get solved, will probably mean one side has to back down.
- What House centrists want: They want the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed, so that it can go to Biden’s desk. (It passed the Senate this summer.) To get their votes last month on a key procedural move for the $3.5 trillion package, Pelosi promised this group a vote on the infrastructure bill by this week.
- What House liberals want: They want a guarantee that their big, social-safety-net bill will pass the Senate before they lend their votes to an infrastructure bill. One of those liberals, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), said she is planning to vote against the infrastructure bill for that reason. The problem with this is that Senate Democrats are still debating among themselves what the social-spending bill will look like and don’t even have the bill done.
Some liberal Democrats say they won’t vote for the first without the second. A handful of centrist Democrats say they won’t vote for the second without the first. Pelosi only has three votes to spare within her party. If the House votes on the infrastructure legislation today, as Pelosi has promised her party they would, it could fail without support from liberals.
Friday: The government shuts down without a spending bill
Here’s what that would look like. It would probably affect the government’s pandemic response.
“The worst time in the world we want to shut down the government is in the middle of a pandemic where we have 140,000 people a day getting infected and 2,000 people a day dying,” Anthony S. Fauci, the president’s chief medical adviser, told The Washington Post.
This has been updated with the latest news.