Senate

Schumer, McConnell talk on debt ceiling

Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are talking about the debt ceiling as the country heads toward a borrowing cliff as soon as next month.

Two sources told The Hill that the two Senate leaders have talked about the issue, though both cautioned that the discussions are in the early stages.

“There are discussions … that are at least initially underway on that. We’ll see where it lands,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), McConnell’s No. 2.

Asked if he was referencing discussions between McConnell and Schumer, Thune added, “Yeah, I’m hoping there will be some progress there.”

A second source confirmed that the two Senate leaders were talking after an icy standoff in the lead-up to the October debt ceiling fight, when moderates in both parties urged them to negotiate with each other.

Congress is again barreling toward a debt ceiling fight after lawmakers agreed to a short-term debt hike.

Aides, citing Treasury Department estimates, said the extension would keep the government solvent until Dec. 3, though outside groups had predicted the country could reach the fiscal cliff between mid-December and mid-February.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned lawmakers in a letter on Tuesday that they will hit the “X Date,” when the government will no longer be able to pay all its bills, on Dec. 15.

Democrats haven’t yet said how they will raise the debt ceiling after Senate Republicans put up 11 votes earlier this year to help advance a debt bill. Though every Republican voted against raising the debt ceiling bill on final passage, they came under fierce criticism from conservatives for helping advance the debt bill.

McConnell, in a letter to Biden shortly after the vote, vowed that Republicans wouldn’t help again.

The standoff earlier in the fall between the two leaders frustrated some moderates who urged them to start talking as the October standoff loomed.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) told reporters at the time that McConnell and Schumer should “engage, start working, work this out.”

“We have a responsibility to be the adults. … We should not have these artificial crises,” he added.

Asked why Schumer and McConnell didn’t talk more heading into the October standoff, Thune added that it “got too late in the game” and that the uncertainty around the December date requires working in advance to figure out a path to avoid a default.

“I’m glad that they’re starting to pursue those discussions,” he added.

Both McConnell and Schumer were tight-lipped during press conferences on Tuesday when asked about the upcoming debt ceiling fight.

“We must pass the debt limit. We cannot let the full faith and credit of this country lapse, and we hope to do it in a bipartisan way,” Schumer told reporters on Tuesday.

Asked about Democratic colleagues’ demands that Republicans help advance debt limit legislation, McConnell told reporters, “We’ll figure out how to avoid default. We always do.”

Congress ended the debt ceiling fight earlier this year after McConnell offered to either let Democrats pass a short-term extension or speed up the process for Democrats to raise it on their own under the budget reconciliation process.

McConnell and GOP senators who have helped advance the debt ceiling bill earlier this year are vowing that they won’t do it again.

But they say that the offer to speed up reconciliation — which can set off a lengthy, chaotic floor process — is on the table.

“The question is whether they would be able to do it through a reconciliation process that is expedited. That’s the proposal as I understand it. I think that’s a reasonable proposal,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) has explored a proposal, backed by others in the caucus, to expedite the committee and floor process if Democrats agree to raise the debt ceiling through the budget process. Typically reconciliation requires hours of debate and an unwieldy vote-a-rama, where any senator who wants to get a vote can force one. 

“The goal was to try to create a process where you could transact it quickly on the floor,” Thune said. 

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) added that the proposal being shopped by Toomey was “the main play” from Senate Republicans. 

“It would be more how can we accommodate” reconciliation, Cramer said. “That’s the main play, is that.” 

Tags Chuck Schumer debt ceiling Janet Yellen Joe Manchin John Thune Kevin Cramer Mitch McConnell Pat Toomey Rob Portman

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