As McCarthy battles the White House over the debt ceiling, McConnell plans to play a full-time defender

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CNN

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell has found ways out of the devastating defaults of the past.

This time may be different – at least for now.

Faced with the most dangerous debt-ceiling impasse in a dozen years, Senate Republican leaders plan to play a backseat and try to find a way out of the newly empowered House GOP majority. One conflict with the White House is a gamble that underscores the new power order in a high-stakes but divided Washington.

McConnell and his leadership team fear that the House GOP position will be undermined, and that without the express blessing of Speaker Kevin McCarthy, they have little chance of success in trying to broker a deal. With about four months to go before the risk of default increases significantly, Senate Republicans say they’ll sit back and see how the GOP maneuvers to raise the borrowing limit from 31.4 percent. trillion dollars – before deciding whether to enter the process.

GOP Senate Whip John Thune, McConnell’s deputy, said his leadership team wants to give House Republicans “some room” to strike a deal with the White House.

“At least for now, ultimately, knowing that House Republicans and the president agree, we’ll have to see what they can figure out,” the South Dakota Republican said. “That will be the best strategy for us.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said some senators may be pushing back to find a way out of the impasse. But he quickly added, “Ultimately, I think there will have to be negotiations between this House and the White House.”

Sen. Tom Tillis, a Republican from North Carolina and another member of McConnell’s leadership team, told CNN: “I’m waiting for the House to move and take the lead, and we will follow suit.”

McConnell declined to elaborate Monday. But he expressed confidence that Congress would avoid default for the first time.

“We will not allow a default,” the Kentucky Republican told CNN as he entered his office.

The first stand-off is similar to the 2011 battle, when the new GOP majority in the House fought tooth and nail with a Democratic president as Republicans tried to use the issue as leverage to push through their priorities, whether or not Senate Democrats ignored them. The struggle led to a downgrade of the country’s credit rating, and later an agreement was reached to raise the borrowing limit and cut spending on national and defense programs, although some of these cuts were later reversed.

This time with a chance to win the Speaker’s vote on the 15th ballot, McCarthy has promised his Tories that he will allow the debt ceiling to be raised if a budget deal is struck or if they win. Although the plan is light, “proportionate budget reforms”. according to the characteristics. Instead, McCarthy urged President Joe Biden to sit down and negotiate a deal to raise the debt ceiling — a position the White House refuses to accept. If McCarthy abandons that demand and proposes raising the debt ceiling without the concessions his constituents have demanded, any lawmaker could turn to a vote to remove the president from the deal he struck to win.

“It’s been done three times in the last administration of Donald Trump, so it’s nothing surprising,” White House press secretary Karin Jean-Pierre said Monday, repeating calls for Congress to raise the debt ceiling without strings attached. “It’s something that has to be done unconditionally.”

However, this position was hit by friendly fire.

“It’s not responsible,” Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, said Monday of the White House’s position. “This is democracy. We need to talk to each other.”

Although the debt ceiling has been raised or suspended 61 times since 1978, it’s not uncommon for lawmakers to use the issue as leverage to get their way. But they often have to give up because the loan limit must be raised to pay bills.

In the last Congress, McConnell urged the Democrats who control the House and Senate to raise the debt ceiling with only their votes, namely by using a budget process that cannot be thrown into a stone wall and can be approved. by direct voting. Democrats rejected the request.

McConnell then took a different tack: Pass a new law that would allow Democrats to use a unique process to raise the debt ceiling with their votes. Democrats accepted. It was similar to another plan proposed by the GOP leader when Barack Obama was in the White House: An attempt to give lawmakers some distance from political infidelity by allowing the debt ceiling to be raised even if Congress formally voted against the move. voice.

This time, however, means Republicans won’t be able to control the party’s GOP strategy in the Senate.

“Right now it’s a fight between House Republicans and the president, so I’m not sure we want to get into that fight,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana.

If the disagreement doesn’t end, the math may change.

Some believe a Senate deal is achievable and would take 60 votes to break the filibuster, but only if McConnell is on board. At this point, a vote in the House would mean at least six Republicans would have to join the 212 Democrats if 218 members signed a “discharge petition” and forced a floor vote in that chamber. But that time-consuming process is rarely successful, and several voting Republicans say they won’t make the effort — at least not yet.

“It’s an absolute last resort,” said Brian Fitzpatrick, Republican of Pennsylvania, who is negotiating a bipartisan deal on the issue.

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