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Mitch McConnell Is Threatening to Stifle Debt Ceiling Vote to Get What He Wants

It’s refreshing to see Dems go two-for-two in a strategy clash with Republicans — but the debt ceiling fight looms.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell makes his way to a news conference after the Senate Republican policy luncheon in the Capitol on July 20, 2021.

If you enjoy the sound of gears grinding and the sight of brazen insurrectionists playing the hurt bird, this week on Capitol Hill is at the top of your menu. It’s got everything: traitors running amok, Democrats actually acting like they have the majority and Republicans threatening to take the global economy hostage — again — because it’s all they know how to do.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday rammed through a vote to open debate on the portion of President Biden’s infrastructure plan that cannot be passed by way of reconciliation. Predictably, the vote was hamstrung by a GOP filibuster and lost 51-49; Schumer himself voted against it in the end, but only because doing so allows him to bring the measure up for another vote.

Bringing this to a vote now was an interesting decision by Schumer. All through the week, allegedly “moderate” Republicans, and more than a few Democrats, begged Schumer to hold off on the debate vote because they were really close to getting the whole thing nailed down, you guys, they swear. Schumer, after apparently having been injected with some form of galvanizing memory juice, was able to recognize foot-dragging when it was right there under his nose, and called for the vote anyway.

Schumer lost, but didn’t lose, because the message was clear: This thing is coming, and GOP senators need to decide if they are going to vote against a wildly popular set of bills. It was refreshing to see the majority leader recognize when his colleagues across the aisle are wasting time for the sake of wasting time. This time, he had no truck with it, and now everyone’s positions are vividly staked out.

The most significant indication that Republicans were wasting time deliberately because they have few moves left is the fact that they made all sorts of conciliatory “we’ll get this done soon” noises after the debate vote failed. If they had the horses to kill the thing outright, they’d say so — and do so — in no uncertain terms. They are using “let’s work together some more” the way deep-sea predator fish use phosphorescent lights at the end of an antenna stalk to lure prey in the darkness of the ocean depths. Fortunately, and perhaps only for now, Schumer appears unwilling to take the bait.

On the other side of the building, the move toward an actual investigation into the January 6 sacking of the Capitol building got spicy. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy coughed up five Republican names for the committee, including two terrible Jims: Jordan and Banks. Jordan in particular was an execrable pick, a Technicolor “eff you” to Speaker Pelosi and the whole notion of an actual investigation. Pelosi responded by chopping Banks and Jordan off McCarthy’s list, at which point McCarthy had a tantrum and pulled every Republican from the panel. “We will run our own investigation,” he said.

The mainstream press responded to this with entirely predictable “Oh Noes Bipartisanship!” noises, but in point of fact, McCarthy appears to have done Pelosi — and indeed the entire country — a great service.

“We should be thankful that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) just pulled Republicans out of any involvement in the select committee to examine the Jan. 6 insurrection,” report Greg Sargent and Paul Waldman for The Washington Post. “In so doing, he ensured that the committee’s investigation will both have more integrity and be more likely to undertake a valuable accounting.”

The folks at Politico agree: “[McCarthy’s] announcement that he would withdraw all his members from the panel unless she reverses course is exactly what a lot of Democrats were hoping for. Now, Democrats (plus Rep. Liz Cheney) can subpoena whomever they want, whenever they want, without any protest. If they decide to have closed-door depositions with Trump White House officials, the former president will have no spies in the room to report back. And the public hearings will be free of GOP complaints.”

It’s definitely weird to see Democrats go two-for-two in a strategy clash with Republicans, but they will need every once of acumen to deal with the looming fiasco behind door number three. The debt ceiling vote arrives in 10 days — that pesky thing which, if bungled, threatens to turn the global economy into Thanos infinity dust — and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it clear that he will stifle the debt vote to get what he wants.

“Top Senate Democrats accused the minority leader Wednesday of plotting to hold the economy hostage,” reports Politico, “after McConnell said he doesn’t expect any Republican senators to vote to prevent the U.S. government from defaulting on its loans in the coming weeks.”

Of course, Lindsey Graham is more than happy to play pilot fish to McConnell’s great white shark. If you feel like you’ve seen this movie before, it’s because you have. Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce explains:

In 2010, for the first time in the country’s history, the newly elected Republican congressional majorities threatened to trash the country’s full faith and credit by refusing to suspend the debt ceiling. This was around when Mitch McConnell infamously referred to the debt ceiling as a “hostage that’s worth ransoming.” As the economy was still staggering out from under the economic catastrophe of 2008 and 2009, the mere threat of holding the debt ceiling hostage was enough to slow the economic recovery.

Comes now Lindsey Graham and his merry band, just as the entire nation is still staggering under the burden of a revived pandemic and still staggering out from under four years of presidential corruption … flipping the playbook to the same damn page. It is relevant to point out that the debt ceiling was raised three times during the last administration, including in the wake of a budget-busting tax cut, without a peep from Graham or McConnell. Graham says he’ll lay out the terms of the extortion next week.

Well, bully for next week. This incipient debt ceiling crunch will almost certainly affect both the infrastructure debate and the 1/6 committee’s investigation. McConnell and Graham have signaled they will turn the national and global economies into a garbage fire if they don’t like the lay of things. Biden and Schumer are going to have to summon heretofore unheard-of levels of resolve to call this incredibly reckless bluff, which they must do. If they don’t, all of this will come to nothing.

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