Sen. Joe Manchin III, a key swing vote for the White House’s legislative agenda, said on Monday that Democrats could unilaterally hike the nation’s borrowing limit with minor help from Republicans.
Mr. Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, said Republican and Democratic leaders were discussing the strategy ahead of the Dec. 15 deadline, at which point the U.S. would be at risk of not being able to pay its debts.
Under the proposal, Democrats would use the budget reconciliation process to raise the debt ceiling. Reconciliation, which Democrats are using in an effort to pass President Biden’s $1.75 trillion social welfare bill, allows some tax and spending measures to avert the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster threshold and pass by a simple majority.
Republicans would acquiesce to the maneuver by not slowing down the process with parliamentary roadblocks.
The proposal is the brainchild of Sen. Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican. Mr. Toomey said the GOP’s sole responsibility would be to “yield back time and not drag it out.”
“This could be a 48-hour exercise,” said Mr. Toomey. “It would probably be less than that.”
Mr. Manchin said the compromise was increasingly the topic of negotiations between Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and his Republican counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
“I understand that Senator Schumer and Senator McConnell have been speaking about this or maybe trying to find a pathway forward and hopefully we’ll find one,” said Mr. Manchin. “I think that it’s our responsibility to make sure that we take care of the debt ceiling. Democrats are now in control, so we want to make sure that we do it and do it right.”
Any attempt to increase or suspend the debt ceiling, the cap on how much the federal government can borrow to meet expenses, is subject to normal filibuster rules in the Senate. That means that if even one lawmaker objects, then 60 votes are required to cut off debate.
That reality was put to the test earlier this month when Republicans initially refused to support a hike in the debt ceiling, arguing that Democrats should do it unilaterally via reconciliation.
After significant back and forth, Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, agreed to support a temporary hike to the debt ceiling to avert a default on U.S. debt. The GOP leader made the offer contingent on Democrats pushing through a long-term fix to the debt ceiling on their own at a later date using reconciliation.
Despite taking Mr. McConnell’s offer, Democrats have ruled out using reconciliation to dispense with the long-range debt ceiling question at a later date.
Under reconciliation rules, Democrats would have to specify an exact number for increasing the nation’s borrowing limit. Such a number, which would be above $29 trillion, opens vulnerable Democrats to attack during next year’s midterm elections.
“I think the [Democratic] leadership is afraid to acknowledge the dollar amount that they want to inflict on the American people, the dollar amount of new debt that they want the authority to borrow,” said Mr. Toomey. “That’s the problem, there’s no other problem for them.”