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Mitch McConnell’s Deal to Lift Debt Limit May Spark GOP Revolt Over Weakening Filibuster


  • McConnell and Schumer are trying to avoid a high-stakes showdown that could end in a US default.
  • McConnell is gambling some Republicans will grease the wheels for Dems to lift the debt ceiling alone.
  • But his potential compromise may spark a conservative revolt over the filibuster.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is eyeing a way out of another high-stakes showdown. But his maneuvering could spark a conservative revolt over weakening the filibuster.

The Kentucky Republican has been locked in weeks of secret negotiations with Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Senate Majority Leader. The pair are trying to head off another bruising clash that brought the US to the brink of defaulting on its debt earlier in the fall. The US is eight days before an important fiscal deadline to avert a potential breach of the debt ceiling.

“We want a simple majority without a convoluted, risky, lengthy process and it looks like the Republicans will help us facilitate that,” Schumer said at a weekly press conference.

The debt ceiling is the legal limit on how much the government can borrow to pay bills it has already incurred. If Congress fails to raise the borrowing cap, experts say the federal government enters a default that would plunge America into another devastating economic crisis, halt Social Security payments and paychecks to military servicemembers.

Since the summer, McConnell spearheaded an effort to pressure Democrats to renew the US’s ability to cover its bills using a party-line procedure known as reconciliation. Democrats rejected it, arguing it must be done in a bipartisan manner.

But a potential compromise emerged on Tuesday. A House bill was introduced that would first pave the way for Democrats to lift the debt limit only once with a simple majority vote instead of the 60 typically required under the filibuster. For that to pass the upper chamber, 10 Republicans would need to throw their support behind it.

Then, Democrats could move ahead and lift the debt limit on their own over unanimous Republican opposition in a follow-up bill. The new House legislation included elements of a compromise: A specific debt number would be attached, a key Republican demand. Then the bill would avert spending cuts to safety-net programs like Medicare triggered under the Biden stimulus scheduled for next year, a Democratic priority.

The deal threatens to spark a conservative revolt. “It’s a terrible idea. Terrible,” Sen. Mike Lee of Utah told NBC News. “It would circumvent the filibuster. This is nuking the filibuster.”

Others outright rejected the idea of Republicans cooperating with Democrats in any way on the debt limit. “They don’t need a single Republican,” Sen. Bill Hagerty of Tennessee told Insider earlier on Tuesday. “I don’t plan to support it at all.”

It was not immediately clear whether enough Republicans would support  the complicated plan. Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Sen. John Cornyn of Texas were among the GOP lawmakers who signaled they could back it.

“I think there will be ten,” Blunt told Insider. “There may be more than ten. A lot of people don’t want to be part of these cuts” to Medicare.

Others held out to see more about the plan. McConnell pitched Republicans on the deal at a weekly caucus lunch. He later expressed confidence that Republicans would get onboard.

“I believe we’ve reached a solution to the debt ceiling issue that’s consistent with Republican views,” McConnell said Tuesday.

Some GOP senators were not excited about the idea. Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah said he wanted more time to review the proposal before deciding on casting a vote for it. “I still think reconciliation would be the preferred method,” he told Insider.

Romney voted against raising the debt limit in September. All the while, Democrats remained critical of Republicans for treating the debt limit as a political tool.

“I think Republicans are fairly irresponsible and crazy,” Sanders told Insider. “But I think there are a number of them who will understand it will be a disaster not to pay our debts and plunge the global economy into turmoil.”

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