That leaves a few other issues that have to be dealt with before Christmas recess, including passing the defense authorization bill, raising the debt limit, and possibly passing Biden’s Build Back Better plan. There’s also a hangover problem in the continuing resolution: It didn’t waive the existing and still stupid statuatory pay-as-you-go rule that could trigger automatic spending cuts in Medicare reimbursements, farm subsidies, and a score of other small programs. A Democratic aide told Roll Call that the waiver will probably be included in some other bill, probably the defense authorization.
That bill is being held up by Sen. Marco Rubio, who wants an amendment to ban imports from China that are likely to have been made by forced labor of Uyghurs. The problem the amendment raises is pretty much solely procedural: It would have had to originate in the House because of Section 7 of Article 1 of the Constitution. Any bill that raises revenue—this one includes tariff revenue on imports—has to start in the House, which has already passed the bill. They’d have to redo it.
How the Senate breaks that logjam isn’t immediately clear. It will likely take Sen. Mitch McConnell exerting his influence over Rubio, something he’s not been inclined to do lately since that would make Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s job easier. But Schumer and McConnell have been having continuing negotiations over dealing with the debt ceiling. That’s the biggest must-pass now that government is funded, and it needs to happen by Dec. 15.
Because McConnell and Republicans are on the record in a letter to President Joe Biden saying they won’t help deal with the debt ceiling, they have to figure a way around that. Right now that appears to be taking the defense bill off the floor while the four corners—the top two Democratic and Senate leaders in both the House and Senate—work out a compromise, and including in that language an allowance for Democrats to pass the debt ceiling with a simple majority vote.
They can’t actually put the debt ceiling hike in the bill because Republicans refuse to vote for it again. So like the cowardly but inventive trick they came up with on government funding, they’d get around that by giving Democrats permission to do it on their own in this bill. GOP House Leader Kevin McCarthy said “I don’t think that would pass” in the House since there probably aren’t enough Republicans who would vote for it, and the bloated bill is opposed by some Democrats.
Would it simply be a lot easier for Democrats to just get rid of the filibuster? Absolutely, except for the problem of Manchin and Sinema and whatever few Democrats are hiding behind them, quietly opposing getting rid of it. But, yes, absolutely, nuking the filibuster to end the annual problem of Republicans hijacking the debt limit would be the responsible and smart thing to do. McConnell realizes that, which is why he’s going through all these complicated machinations with Schumer to figure out a way to avoid it.
Yes, it’s also infuriating that Republicans insisted on—and got—a simple majority vote on this amendment with some help from Manchin, and Democrats cannot do anything at all with a simple majority vote unless Republicans allow it. Yes, the filibuster has to end.