Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell offered Democrats the opportunity to step back from the fiscal cliff on Wednesday.
Mr. McConnell, Kentucky Republican, privately told Democratic leaders that he would support a short-term debt ceiling suspension measure. The offer is contingent upon Democrats pushing through a long-term fix to the debt ceiling on their own at a later date.
“We have already made it clear we would assist in expediting [the party-line] process for stand-alone debt-limit legislation,” said Mr. McConnell. “To protect the American people from a near-term Democrat-created crisis, we will also allow Democrats to use normal procedures to pass an emergency debt limit extension at a fixed dollar amount to cover current spending levels into December.”
The GOP leader said the short-term maneuver would “moot” Democratic complaints about the time it takes to push a debt-ceiling increase unilaterally.
Republicans praised the proposal, saying it would bring the federal government back from the brink of default.
“I think that’s going to give us a way out of the woods,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican privy to the discussions. “Which is what we want.”
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It remains to be seen whether Senate Democrats, led by Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York, would accept such an offer.
For weeks, Mr. Schumer has called for Republicans to support a one-year suspension of the federal debt ceiling.
“We pay our debts on time without exception,” he said. “It’s been a key to our economic success and our standing in the global markets across the world.”
Mr. Schumer initially tried strong-arming Republicans into backing the measure by tying it to a short-term government funding measure and disaster aid. That gambit failed in the Senate when 10 Republicans refused to cross over and break the 60-vote filibuster threshold.
A stand-alone vote on suspending the debt ceiling until December 2022 is slated for a vote on Wednesday. The measure is again expected to fail.
Mr. McConnell has argued that instead of relying on GOP support, Democrats should raise the debt ceiling unilaterally via budget reconciliation.
The process, which Democrats are poised to use to pass President Biden’s $3.5 trillion expansion of the federal safety net, allows certain spending and tax measures to avert the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster threshold and pass with a simple majority.
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“For 2 1/2 months the Republicans have provided a clear and consistent road map for [the unified] Democratic government to raise the debt ceiling,” Mr. McConnell said. “Democrats have had 2 1/2 months notice to use the fast-track, party-line reconciliation process, which they have already used happily this year and already intend to use once again.”
Democratic leaders do not want to use the process to deal with the debt ceiling for political reasons.
Under reconciliation rules they would have to specify an exact new ceiling for the nation’s borrowing limit above the current limit of $28.8 trillion, which they fear would hurt vulnerable Democrats in next year’s midterm elections.