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Progressives Ask Why Deal to Pass Debt Ceiling Can’t Be Used for Voting Rights

The deal would allow a workaround of the filibuster, enabling Senate Democrats to increase the limit with just 51 votes.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) attends a bipartisan meeting with Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois).

Democrats and Republicans in the Senate have reached an agreement on the debt limit, subverting the economic disaster that would have taken place if the United States government were to default on its debts for the first time.

The proposed workaround would temporarily bypass Republicans’ ability to filibuster Democrats on the debt ceiling vote — leaving many progressive advocates questioning why the measure can’t be taken for other critical issues, like voting protections and reproductive rights.

The deal, which both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) have agreed to, would allow Democrats to pass a bill to raise the debt ceiling with just 50 votes in the Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.

McConnell has said that he believes he has the 10 GOP votes that will be necessary to advance the deal. After the proposal is passed, a second bill, which deals with the actual raising of the debt limit, could be advanced in the Senate without any Republican support.

The proposal will benefit both parties in different ways. Democrats will be able to pass a one-time debt ceiling increase that could go beyond the 2022 midterms, allowing them to put the issue on the backburner between now and November. Meanwhile, Republicans will still have the ability to vote against raising the debt limit — as they promised they would do in October — without fearing that their votes will lead the U.S. to default on its debts.

The deal comes after the Treasury Department recently estimated that the government would exceed its current debt limit sometime in the second half of December.

The deal would also be a one-time thing, barring a similar agreement from being passed in the future. After Democrats raise the debt ceiling later this month, neither party will be able to raise the debt ceiling with a simple majority vote again, as they will no longer be able to bypass the filibuster.

Several progressive advocates have expressed their frustration that a filibuster workaround could be negotiated on this issue but not for similarly high-stakes issues.

“If we can make a filibuster carve out for the debt ceiling, than [sic] we can do it for voting rights and the right to choose,” said State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, a Democrat from Pennsylvania.

Richard Stengel, a political analyst for MSNBC, tweeted about the deal, directing his ire at Democratic lawmakers.

“That’s great that you figured out a way to raise the debt ceiling with 51 votes. How about using 51 votes to save our democracy by getting rid of the filibuster and passing voting rights?” Stengel wrote.

“If the Senate is willing to work around filibuster rules to protect the economy, they should be willing to work around it to protect our vote,” read a tweet from Stand Up America, a progressive organization dedicated to combating voter suppression and corruption.

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, directed her comments toward Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia who steadfastly opposed any changes to the filibuster.

“So a filibuster carve out and the Senate is not destroyed. Sen. Manchin has equated the filibuster with democracy itself,” Ifill wrote. “If you can make an exception for the debt ceiling you can do so to protect voting rights.”