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Congress Raises Debt Ceiling After Months of Republican Obstruction

Congress raised the ceiling just before the country was set to default on its loans, which would cause economic turmoil.

The U.S. Capitol is pictured at sunset on December 13, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

Congress voted to raise the debt limit on Tuesday after months of brinkmanship and Republican obstruction that threatened economic disaster.

The resolution raises the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion, staving off the next battle on the fiscal move until 2023. Both chambers of Congress passed the measure largely on party lines, with only one Republican, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Illinois) voting in favor. President Joe Biden is expected to sign it into law as soon as possible.

Over the past months Republicans in the Senate have been threatening to send the U.S. into default for the first time in history over their refusal to raise the debt ceiling. Even as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) was working to cut a deal with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) this month, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) insisted that Democrats capitulate to Republican demands on the debt ceiling and tack the issue to their reconciliation bill.

GOP obstruction, which was led by McConnell, pushed the country incredibly close to a default, which Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen predicted would occur on December 15. If the U.S. defaulted, Republicans were likely to blame Democrats for the ensuing economic disaster, obfuscating GOP responsibility.

Even a short default would have caused long-term economic instability, economists warned; a long-term default, meanwhile, would have mechanically triggered a recession, sending the fragile COVID economy spiraling and destroying up to $15 trillion of household wealth. President Joe Biden had slammed Republicans for their political games, calling it “hypocritical, dangerous and disgraceful.”

McConnell and 13 other Republicans in the Senate ended up capitulating on their dangerous game last week, voting with Democrats last week to allow the debt ceiling to be passed with a simple majority in the chamber.

Schumer applauded the resolution’s passage on Tuesday. “As I have said repeatedly, this is about paying debt accumulated by both parties, so I am pleased Republicans and Democrats came together to facilitate a process that has made addressing the debt ceiling possible,” he said.

Indeed, a significant portion of U.S. debt was racked up by Donald Trump. With Republican lawmakers’ help on issues like tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations, the national debt rose by nearly $8 trillion during Trump’s term. This is the third highest increase to the deficit by any presidential administration, only lower than George W. Bush and Abraham Lincoln, both of whom oversaw large wars.

Still, with Republicans refusing to vote to bypass a filibuster on the debt ceiling bill directly, the GOP has set itself up to spew spurious talking points about the debt ceiling in order to attack Democrats. Republicans have been lying about whose debts need to be paid, ignoring their outsized role in the current debt situation. Meanwhile, with only Democrats voting on Tuesday to raise the debt ceiling, Republicans have already begun to attack the party for supposed irresponsibility.

“Later today, every Senate Democrat is going to vote on party lines to raise our nation’s debt limit by trillions of dollars,” McConnell said ahead of the vote. Likely referring to the reconciliation package known as the Build Back Better Act, he continued, “if they jam through another reckless taxing and spending spree, this massive debt increase will just be the beginning.”

However, as the typically conservative Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has found, the Build Back Better Act passed by the House would actually decrease the deficit. Republicans also had very little to say about the debt ceiling when the CBO estimated that the 2017 tax cut would cost the government $2.3 trillion over ten years.

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