Biden: Senate filibuster change on debt a ‘real possibility’

To get around Republican opposition, President Joe Biden said Tuesday that Democrats are considering a change to the Senate’s filibuster rules in order to quickly approve lifting the nation’s debt limit and avoid what would be a devastating credit default.

The president’s surprise remarks come as the Senate is tangled in a fiscally dangerous standoff over a vote that’s needed to suspend the nation’s debt limit and allow the federal government to continue borrowing to pay down its balances. Congress has just days to act before the Oct. 18 deadline when the Treasury Department has warned it will run short of funds to handle the nation’s already accrued debt load.

Biden has resisted any filibuster rule changes over other issues, but his off-the-cuff comments Tuesday night interjected a new urgency to an increasingly uncertain situation.

“It’s a real possibility,” Biden told reporters outside the White House.

Getting rid of the filibuster rule would lower the typical 60-vote threshold for passage to 50. In the split 50-50 Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris can break a tie, allowing Democrats to push past Republicans.

The topic was broached during a private Democratic Senate lunch session Tuesday as senators were growing exasperated with Republican Leader Mitch McConnell’s refusal to allow a simple vote on the debt limit. Instead, McConnell is forcing Democrats to undertake what they view as a cumbersome process taking days, if not weeks, that will eat into their agenda.

With Republicans putting up hurdles to the vote, Democratic senators have been discussing a range of options—including a carve-out to the chamber’s filibuster rules.

But invoking a filibuster rules change won’t be easy, in part because all Democratic senators would need to be on board.

At his weekly press conference, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., did not embrace—or reject—the idea of changing the filibuster for this one specific issue.

Instead, Schumer simply repeated what he, Biden and others have said—that Republicans should “ get out of the way” and allow Democrats to pass the measure that’s already been approved and sent over from the House.

“The best way to get this done is for Republicans to just get out of the way,” Schumer said.

He said the burden to stand aside is on McConnell’s shoulders.

McConnell, though, wants to force Democrats to use the process he favors, which gives Republicans ample time to remind voters about the unpopular vote.

Dug in Tuesday, McConnell refused to budge.

“They’ve had plenty of time to execute the debt ceiling increase,” McConnell said about the Democrats. “They need to do this—and the sooner they get about it, the better.”

Once a routine matter, raising the debt limit has become politically treacherous over the past decade or more, used by Republicans, in particular, to rail against government spending and the rising debt load, now at $28 trillion.

The fact is, both parties have contributed to the debt and the nation has run a deficit most years for decades.

The filibuster has been up for debate all year, as Biden and his allies consider ways to work around Republican opposition to much of their agenda.

Biden has not backed earlier calls to end the filibuster for other topics—namely voting law changes. But Tuesday’s comments could signal a new phase.

At least one Democrat, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., sounded resistant Tuesday. He and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have raised objections to ending the filibuster on other topics this year.

The standoff over the debt ceiling that started weeks ago as a routine political skirmish is now entering more serious territory, as the senators risk a rare federal default if no agreement is reached.

That could set off a cascading fiscal crisis, rippling through not just the government and financial markets, but the ordinary economy and the lives of Americans.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

11 thoughts on “Biden: Senate filibuster change on debt a ‘real possibility’

  1. It’s can’t be said enough that while McConnell wants Democrats to raise the debt limit themselves, to pay for the Republican tax cuts and the budgets approved the last few years, that he himself is using the filibuster to force them to use reconciliation and refusing to let Republicans vote on raising the debt limit.

    Which is because if Democrats are forced to use reconciliation for the debt limit, they can’t use it to pass other bills. You can’t pass multiple bills a year using reconciliation. It’s McConnell’s way to tank their agenda while using the creditworthiness of the United States as the hostage.

    Mitch McConnell is the best argument as to why the filibuster should be abolished. It makes sense when used by a sane, rational person who cares about the United States. That, unfortunately, doesn’t doesn’t describe Mitch McConnell.

  2. Trump wanted to get rid of the Filibuster as well. McConnell and the Republicans controlled the Senate at the time, and McConnell said no. Democrats were relieved when it wasn’t abolished. Once you get rid of the filibuster, there is no going back.

    1. Which is what Mitch McConnell wants – he wants the filibuster abolished and all you suckers to blame the Democrats for it, like you’ve been doing.

      Mitch McConnell is the man keeping the debt limit from being raised. It would be done today but he’s filibustering it. Any plain understanding of what the debt limit is makes it clear it shouldn’t be a partisan issue.

      I’d be saying the same thing if Chuck Schumer had filibustered the debt ceiling the last three times it was raised. But he didn’t. What a sucker, huh?

  3. Quote: It’s McConnell’s way to tank their agenda while using the creditworthiness of the United States as the hostage.

    “Whatever it takes to make a deal,” Joe B. Someone has to control the jackasses in the Democrat party by whatever means necessary before they finish destroying the country…and they are well on their way to doing so, thanks to the ignorance of the general populace.

    1. So we should destroy the country to save it?

      I also like the discounting of the general populace. It fits in with the Republican strategy that people who don’t vote for them aren’t “real” Americans.

  4. While much hated, the filibuster rule served a greater purpose. A small change bit the Democrats hard following Harry Reid’s decision to make an inroad into the rule, when in the following years, the Republicans used that inroad to their advantage with judicial appointments. Ending the rule altogether will allow the super slim Democratic lead to impose its socialist agenda, but will allow a rapid, and probably worse for the country, reversal should the Republicans achieve a majority in the coming years.
    The idea with the bicameral Congress, especially the Senate, was to slow change to a pace that fitted consensus of all rather than majority rule.
    It is so easy in these polarized times to forget the most important things! Respect and civility are going down the tube.

    1. Why did Democrats make such a change? Because Republicans refused to let Democrats appoint ANY judges at all. So the alternative was … appoint no judges to the bench unless they could get 60 votes? Just lay down and appoint Republican judges?

      It doesn’t help that Democrats think that Republicans share a common interest in American as that hasn’t been the case for a decade. They are suckers and McConnell is playing them to his short-term gain and our long-term destruction.

      What Republicans are interested in is setting up America so they can rule as a minority, plain and simple. They’ve already lost a majority of the American population. They gave up on their plans to appeal to more Americans after Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012 and instead doubled-down on their rabid base. All those not sufficiently onboard with the new Republican Party were branded as RINO’s, primaried or forced into retirement, and the replacements have a blind loyalty that most autocratic leaders around the world would appreciate.

      It’s not an accident Republicans spent the last four years packing the courts with people even the American Bar Association said weren’t qualified to be judges. It’s not an accident they’re trying to change laws so that their state legislators can throw out vote results because “those people” didn’t vote the right way. It’s all about how they can run America even when a majority of the populace thinks their policies are abhorrent.

      The Republican Party is a danger to democracy. They will bring about real socialism, the type you see in third world countries, with their policies. But, please, go on about the danger of the Democrats who want to make childcare affordable and for us to have roads that aren’t falling apart. That people – even those who escaped from actual socialist countries like Venezuela – think Democrats are promoting real socialism shows the power of the Republican marketing machine.

    2. Joe B. You are correct, when you said “for us to have roads that aren’t falling apart.” That is very important. Right now there is a $1 Trillion+ Real Infrastructure Bill that has support from both Republicans and Democrats. However, the Democrats have said they will not vote on the Real Infrastructure Bill unless they get their additional $3.5 Trillion+ Bill. Welcome to politics. The Democrats are just upset because they have had a rough few weeks, and need to find someone to blame.

    3. You need to specify “some Democrats” there. Whereas Republicans are a unified bloc (I don’t think McConnell lets his caucus use the restroom without permission), Democrats are their usual hot mess.

  5. Quote: That people – even those who escaped from actual socialist countries like Venezuela – think Democrats are promoting real socialism shows the power of the Republican marketing machine.

    So you know better than people who have actually lived under socialism, Joe B? What a genius you are; such incredible insight!

{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining
{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining Article limit resets on
{{ count_down }}