Congress will holds its first vote on the debt ceiling on Tuesday, with the GOP House majority bringing up a “clean” bill that would raise the limit on the government’s borrowing ability with no strings attached, i.e., no spending cuts. That’s exactly what most Democrats have been calling for, so why would Republicans give them a chance to vote on it? That’s where this gets tricky.
The vote is intended to expose fault lines within the Democratic caucus, with Republicans counting on sizable number of Democrats to side with them and bolster their case that Democrats need to agree to deep spending cuts as a condition to raising the debt limit.
While House Democratic leaders have long called for a “clean” bill, large numbers of moderate Blue Dogs may defect on today’s vote, fearful of being tagged by Republicans for raising the debt limit. The House Democratic leadership doesn’t not appear to be able to keep its caucus in line enough to paper over the underlying fault lines within the caucus, thereby blunting the GOP’s move.
The government hit its debt limit earlier this month and the Treasury Department is warning that without a vote to increase the ceiling by mid-August, the US could default on its debts and trigger a massive financial crisis. Typically these bills pass without difficulty given that both parties’ policies contribute to the debt, but House and Senate Republicans are demanding huge unspecified cuts — in the range of trillions of dollars — in exchange for their votes this time.
On the Senate side, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is demandingMedicare cuts, which would help defang the Democrats’ increasingly effective attacks on the GOP over their proposal to turn Medicare into a private voucher system with reduced benefits.
Despite Democrats’ public position on a clean debt limit hike, the writing has been on the wall for some time, as Vice President Joe BIden is leading talks with both parties’ leaders over what cuts will be included in a final deal.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.