From crisis to crisis, Congress is addicted to the cliffs

WASHINGTON – Congress eliminated a looming global economic catastrophe this week by doing what it does best: not much. After weeks of p...


WASHINGTON – Congress eliminated a looming global economic catastrophe this week by doing what it does best: not much.

After weeks of partisan contempt threatening the market, Senate leaders have struck a not-so-grandiose deal that raised the debt ceiling until early December, just two months away. If history is any guide, lawmakers will again be fighting the exact same fight – and might even end up with another band-aid solution.

That kick-the-can-never-so-lightly-on-the-road debt agreement followed that of the House a bipartite bill on infrastructure was not taken into account last week after a promised vote. The delay meant exceeding the Sept. 30 deadline to maintain funding for federal highway programs, but don’t worry: Congress bought himself an entire month with a temporary 30-day patch it will give Democrats more time to resolve the deep differences between them over a huge social safety net measure that may or may not come together by Oct. 31.

It all unfolded as Congress narrowly avoided a government-wide shutdown within hours last week, passing a temporary bill to fund federal agencies until Dec. 2 to give themselves more time to haggle over the 12 annual expense bills. This struggle will inevitably come up against the battle over the debt ceiling, the great social policy bill and the infrastructure law.

Congress is heading for more cliffs than Wile E. Coyote.

The House and Senate have a long tradition of postponing urgent matters until the very last minute, making tough decisions, and voting hard votes only when it is ultimately and completely unavoidable.

But this current Congress seems particularly crippled, given the ideological differences between Democrats holding the lower majority and the entrenched opposition of Republicans who are fixated on next year’s election and see a bit of legislative chaos as theirs. return ticket to majority.

“Washington Democrats are proving they can’t deliver,” Sen. Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and Minority Leader, said Thursday in the Senate, omitting the fact that he was doing everything in his power to make sure they don’t.

The result is that, rather than finding compromises on pressing issues, lawmakers have become accustomed to agreeing to disagree, circumventing politically difficult decisions, and choosing a future date by which they will be forced to try again, often. with the same result. No household or business could operate that way, but for Congress, going from crisis to crisis is a way of life.

On the bright side for senators, the debt ceiling deal preserved the Columbus Day vacation, which includes a Republican retreat scheduled for next week in Florida and other trips scheduled by senators. But Christmas is really in trouble.

The debt deal surfaced because Mr. McConnell began to fear that he might have taken his intransigence on debt limits too far, having strayed a little too close to the edge of a particularly intimidating cliff.

He feared the two pro-obstruction Democrats – Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona – would finally give in to pressure from the rest of their party to approve an exception to the obstruction rules. to increase the legal ceiling. on federal borrowing in the event of an impending tax disaster.

And everyone on Capitol Hill knows that an exception for one type of legislation will ultimately become an avenue for each type of legislation. Mr. McConnell, who is also very fond of filibuster, knew he had to avoid it at all costs.

“His # 1 priority is to protect his instrument from obstruction,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland.

Things are going so badly that even the rudimentary debt deal has barely been concluded. Leading lawmakers and their aides have spent hours haggling over it, and Republicans have struggled to secure pledges from their members to clear the way for a vote.

Most Republicans did not want to get close to the increased debt ceiling that was attacked by former President Donald J. Trump, making it politically radioactive in their eyes. For a while, Republicans weren’t sure they could produce the minimum 10 votes on their side to move the process forward.

Take Senator Kevin Cramer, Republican from North Dakota. Approached by reporters, Mr. Cramer launched into prolonged praise for the increase in the short-term debt limit proposed by Mr. McConnell. He called it elegant, praising the Senate leader’s trick in preserving filibuster and depriving Democrats of a powerful political argument against his party. It also avoided a potentially disastrous default. But Mr Cramer would still not vote to allow it to move forward.

“I don’t think I will,” he said.

In the end, 11 Republicans, including incumbents with nothing to lose and members of the leadership, bit the bullet and pushed the bill forward. It was ultimately passed with only Democratic votes and has yet to be approved by the House before it reaches President Biden’s office. The action is expected next week, a few days before a projected fault.

Sen. Roy Blunt, the retired Missouri veteran Republican who was one of Eleven, spoke for many when he muttered in the hallway, “I can’t explain anything about this place.”

The dysfunction was obviously contagious. Even the subway that transports lawmakers, staff, media and visitors between the Capitol and Senate offices broke down on Thursday, trapping a few unlucky passengers for a brief period. She too had reached her limit.

Tackling the underlying debt is whether Democrats will raise the debt ceiling through due process or through a more complicated budget process, a technical distinction so fine that it is surely indistinguishable for virtually anyone. Americans who are not intimately familiar with the Budget Control Act.

“I don’t think they get a bit of it,” Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn told members of the public. “It’s confusing for the people who work here.”

“The debt ceiling debate is absurd with a capital A,” said Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who heads the finance committee.

But it has political implications for both sides, hence the inability of Congress to come together and perform a function that was once routine and bipartisan, and for all members of Congress to understand that it has to happen.

But Republicans want Democrats to hold debt and then hammer it halfway through next year; Democrats want Republicans to take responsibility for spending during the Trump era, when Republicans controlled Congress, and to avoid the hammer blows they’re sure to take.

“I have no words to describe how ridiculous it is that the debt ceiling has become a political tool,” said Senator Martin Heinrich, Democrat of New Mexico. “I just hope we don’t get to the point where Republicans really push us over the line and people’s pensions are gone to sober up.”

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Newsrust - US Top News: From crisis to crisis, Congress is addicted to the cliffs
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