Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has given Congress a deadline on raising the debt ceiling: Oct. 1, the same day that the government could potentially shut down if a funding bill for the next fiscal year hasn’t been passed. The House is scheduled to be out starting end of day this Friday, not returning until Monday, Sept. 19. The Senate is also scheduled as of now for nearly a full August recess, out Aug. 9 through Sept. 10. A few weeks ago Majority Leader Chuck Schumer threatened recess could be cut short without progress toward infrastructure deals, both on the bipartisan plan and the budget reconciliation from Democrats.
Well, that doesn’t seem likely to happen this week. It conceivably could, but that would require Republicans actually wanting to make a deal. Thus far, they’ve shown pretty much no evidence of that. On Monday, Schumer reiterated that threat: “Senators should be on notice the Senate may stay in session through the weekend to finish the bipartisan infrastructure bill. […] Further delays may mean the Senate will remain in session into the previously scheduled August recess.”
Which means not only is it once again infrastructure week, but we’re winding our way to government shutdown/debt ceiling breach threat season, otherwise known as September through Dec. 24. Of any year. With the debt ceiling as a hostage, Senate Republicans are probably not going to make government funding a huge fight in September—they can agree to a continuing resolution that expires in a few weeks or few months, and postpone that fight until later. The debt ceiling, however–that’s the issue Sen. Mitch McConnell has considered “hostage” since August 2011.
He recognized it as such two years ago, when he wasn’t the one threatening the kidnapping. In 2019, congressional leadership—including McConnell—took that hostage away from the previous president for the duration of his presidency, which was semi-rational. After all, putting a weapon as dangerous for the global economy as that in his hands was a questionable strategy. The problem was, they knowingly made it expire smack dab in the middle of the new president’s first year in office, handing McConnell a future hostage for a possible, if not probable, Democratic president.
Here’s how the U.S Treasury described a debt default back in 2011, when McConnell was playing terrorist: “If Congress fails to increase the debt limit, the government would default on its legal obligations—an event unprecedented in American history. This would cause investors here and around the world to doubt, for the first time, whether the United States will meet its commitments. That would precipitate a self-inflicted financial crisis potentially more severe than the one from which we are now recovering.” That would mean the government “would have to stop, limit, or delay payments on a broad range of legal obligations, including Social Security and Medicare benefits, military salaries, interest on the national debt, tax refunds, and many other commitments.”
So it’s kind of a big deal. One that should probably be handled promptly. “If Congress has not acted to suspend or increase the debt limit by Monday, August 2, 2021, Treasury will need to start taking certain additional extraordinary measures in order to prevent the United States from defaulting on its obligations,” Yellen told congressional leaders in her letter last week. “For example, on October 1 alone, cash and extraordinary measures are expected to decrease by about $150 billion due to large mandatory payments, including a Department of Defense-related retirement and healthcare investment,” Yellen said.
Then there’s that whole saving democracy from the Republicans thing that Senate Democrats in particular need to take care of right away, preferably before state Republicans legislatures start gerrymandering their House colleagues out of existence.
Of course, a very large chunk of the nation is literally on fire right now, as well, with half of the nation breathing in the smoke.
It would also make sense right about now for Senate Democrats to get serious about passing legislation both to combat this fire season and start the work of combatting climate change so that this is not the nation’s normal forever.
In a few words, it would be a very good time to cancel recess.