Forcing a clean debt-ceiling extension through the Senate

Will Reid force Republicans to vote on a clean debt-ceiling bill? Here’s hoping. Bonus: filibuster reform.

It’s too easy for people not actually in the Capitol Hill maelstrom to play at “Congressional chess,” imagining brilliant procedural finesses they don’t have to actually execute. Most of the clever stuff doesn’t come off, and it’s impossible, from any distance, to tell a real threat from typical bargaining-ploy b.s.

Still, this idea seems to have some potential: Senate Democrats are going to bring a clean debt-limit increase to the floor this week. (While they’re at it, why not add a clean CR to the mix? There’s probably a good answer to that, which I don’t know, which was my point about “Congressional chess.”)

That will force every Republican Senator to vote for or against default. If the Republicans filibuster – and it’s hard to see Ted Cruz not filibustering – Reid seems to think he has the six Republicans he’d need to break the filibuster.

And if he doesn’t, he can make this the occasion for finally reforming the filibuster rule; it’s easy to imagine Feinstein, Baucus, and Levin, who were reluctant to pull the trigger last time, deciding that if the filibuster threatens the full faith and credit of the United States it will have to go. That seems to me like a feature of the idea rather than a bug.

A Senate-passed bill, of course, just puts the ball back in Boehner’s court. I don’t believe for a moment there are going to be enough House Republican signatures on a discharge petition to force a vote, but at some point even the “objective” media will stop reporting that there’s some sort of dispute going on, with appropriate quotes from each side, and start reporting that John Boehner, by refusing to bring to a vote a clean CR and a clean debt-ceiling bill as passed by the Senate, is causing a completely unnecessary crisis.

Foootnote Boehner’s refusal to bring “clean” bills to the floor seems to me convincing evidence that he’s lying when he says the votes aren’t there; Wall Street isn’t completely powerless, and not everyone in his conference is an unpatriotic extremist. If Boehner could muster a majority against those bills on an up-or-down vote, he wouldn’t have to rely on his control of the agenda. In the immortal words of Lyndon Johnson, “Until you have the votes, you talk. When you have the votes, you vote.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

34 thoughts on “Forcing a clean debt-ceiling extension through the Senate”

  1. Discharge petitions have to have a certain age (30 legislative days? something like that) The trump the House Democrats and the handful of remaining moderate R’s are talking about is actually to discharge a related bill from the summer, and substituting the Senate bill by amendment on the floor. That’s Rube Goldberg legislating (not that it hasn’t worked before).

    And yes, Boehner is lying out his a$$. Every whip count I’ve seen indicates the votes are there for both a clean CR and a clean debt ceiling bill. Boehner likes being third-in-line to the Presidency, and he apparently isn’t smart enough to go to Pelosi and make D support for his Speakership the price of bringing clean bills to the floor.

    1. I wouldn’t be so sure that the votes are actually there in either chamber. My impression is that Boehner is probably protecting the “moderates” Republicans from having to actually cast a vote that’s guaranteed to get them a primary challenge.

      But it’s also hard to see Boehner holding on as Speaker by making a deal for Democratic support for his speakership. I think at that point the atmosphere in the Republican caucus would be unbelievably toxic. I think there’d be a showdown and I can’t see him getting any Republican votes in support of such a crippled speakership.

      I think Boehner is basically pot committed. Either Obama folds or Boehner rides the country off the cliff.

      1. I think whether the votes are there depends entirely upon the context in which the vote is taken. I agree with Mark; the votes for a discharge petition aren’t there. But if Boehner allowed a straight vote on a clean CR without the discharge petition then my guess is that they would show up.

        1. I like to see who among the lost tribe of moderate Republicans shows up to vote for this. My guess is nobody. For a Republican to vote in favor of a clean bill either for the CR or, especially, the debt ceiling would be the practical equivalent of resigning from the Republican Party. Even those who can see what’s best for the country collectively don’t want to commit political seppuku.

          You are as likely to see a unicorn as a moderate Republican in Congress. There’s a few who talk a good game. But ultimately they all toe the party line.

          1. Frank Wolf of Virginia is a good bet to cross the line. Federal employees aren’t a majority of his constituents, but if you add up Feds and the business owners who depend on them for custom, you can easily break 50%

        2. OTOH, who knows what would happen if Reid allowed a debate without carefully ‘filling the tree’ first? It’s not just Boehner who’s riding a caucus that’s not all behind him.

          I honestly think it would be entertaining to see what would happen in both the House AND the Senate, if they could ever have a secret ballot vote on these things. Not worth leaving the voters without the info needed to punish their reps come the election, of course, but entertaining.

          Perhaps we can all agree the leadership elections should be secret ballot?

          Oh, and the ‘brilliant finesse’ is this: You need to understand that a lot of the Republicans want to lose. Desperately want to lose. They’re part of the same political class as the Democrats, after all; They tend to largely be in agreement with Democrats on a lot of matters, and at odds with the people whose votes they need. They want to lose a lot of these fights they’re forced to be in.

          They just don’t dare do it in such a way that their base would know they took a dive, and take vengeance on them for it.

          Invent a way for the GOP leadership to take a dive while looking like they honestly went down fighting, and they’ll cave in an instant. Doubtless unsatisfying to folks who want them to be seen as caving, but that’s the key to your victory.

          1. = = = Brett Bellmore @ 3:45 am: Oh, and the ‘brilliant finesse’ is this: You need to understand that a lot of the Republicans want to lose. Desperately want to lose. They’re part of the same political class as the Democrats, after all; They tend to largely be in agreement with Democrats on a lot of matters, and at odds with the people whose votes they need. They want to lose a lot of these fights they’re forced to be in. = = =

            Note carefully that in Mr. Bellmore‘s world “losing” means not defaulting on the sovereign debt of the United States and not plunging world financial markets into chaos. He’d prefer to “win”, apparently.


            Hey Brett: Deficit going up or down the last two years (post-recession)? You tell us.

          2. In my world, threatening default is a tactic, not a goal. Defunding Obamacare is a goal. And, yeah, I think Boehner would rather lose, if he could do so in a way which looked like he didn’t take a dive.

          3. Be careful that your tactics don’t become your noose. How much brinkmanship can our country withstand?

          4. Brett, as I’m beginning to realize from many Republican comments in the last few days, defunding Obamacare is in fact not the goal.

            The goal, for the GOP, is to win. To prove that a Black president “living high on the hog” in the White House can be brought low for his hubris. To prove that the Democrats, with their dreams of universal health care and a happy, gun-free society, cannot win. Obamacare is merely the central symbol of Democratic victory—if that monument can be toppled and melted down, the Republicans would once again feel powerful, not vanquished.

            Say what you will. It’s becoming clear that this is not about Obamacare, but about the GOP thrashing against its own weakness and lack of agency as a party.

            Let me start your next comment for you: “Nah……”

          5. You guys are trying to argue rationally against someone who just suggested that the federal government’s agents provocateurs were behind the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

            Seriously, what’s the point?

            Bellmore may post something that looks more or less reasonable. Then the next moment he’s off in la-la land. Kind of makes it hard to have any sort of productive discussion if one of the parties isn’t well-grounded in reality.

          6. “You guys are trying to argue rationally against someone who just suggested that the federal government’s agents provocateurs were behind the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.”

            Very poor reading comprehension there.

          7. Two threads down, someone posting under the name “Brett Bellmore” wrote:

            the big scandal about the OK bombing was the extent to which they discovered it had been facilitated by government agents playing provocateur

            I can read just fine, thanks.

          8. When I say that Brett Bellmore is lying, I don’t mean his quibbling over language, I mean his assertion that imaginary federal “agents provocateurs” had something, anything to do with the Oklahoma City bombing. The “source” he linked to when asked for proof said nothing remotely like what he had claimed.

            The OKC bombing was an act of domestic terrorism, committed by a couple of right-wing goons from the Militia movement. It’s mildly interesting that Brett can’t bring himself to just admit that and move on.

    2. The discharge petition itself doesn’t have to age but the bill it’s for does. So trying to find a bill they could file a discharge petition on is tricky and involves other parliamentary maneuvers to try to amend it so that it is a clean CR.

  2. I would assume they aren’t attaching a clean CR to the mix because they’ve already passed a clean CR. They did so when they stripped the ACA defunding from the House bill and passed that.

    1. Exactly, the clean CR is what Reid and Obama and Shumer have been needling Boehner about since the last weekend in September, the one he won’t allow on the floor because, he says, it doesn’t have the votes to pass. And I guess he wants to spare the country the horror of seeing it go down? Or something. It’s been sitting in his in-basket.

  3. I think we’re fated to see what happens in the event of reaching the debt limit and not having enough cash on hand to pay everything.

    1. I don’t see it happening. These guys might be Democrats but it looks an awful lot that they’re perfectly willing to see the world burn if that’s the price of holding on to their personal perks. If the last four years didn’t move them to ditch this dangerous choke point, nothing will.

    2. I think I may if misunderstood you. If you’re saying that it’s too late to change the rules to end the filibuster, then I believe you’re correct.

      1. If 51 Senators appear on the floor and vote aye for a bill, and Reid transmits it to the House as passed, who exactly is going to stop them? The Supreme Court has no standing to intervene, and the Constitution clearly states that a majority (51 or 50+1 currently) rules the Senate.


        1. The Supreme Court decides about the scope of its jurisdiction for itself. If there’s five Republican’s on the court with the stomach for a repeat of Bush v. Gore, then can do whatever pleases their cold, nasty little hearts. Effective control of the Supreme Court is a potential trump card.

          1. I’m not saying you’re wrong, and I’m neither a lawyer nor a Constitutional scholar. But the US Congress has never crashed the world economy & set off a stampede to make the euro the global reserve currency over an ideological temper tantrum before, yet here we are. So things don’t happen because x, until they do happen. Based on his interview this week Scalia seems like the kind of person who would set his own hall on fire and burn rather than let the Egil capture it, but do you really think Roberts wants to go down in history as the Supreme Court Justice who triggered off the second US civil war?


      2. That’s what I meant, yes.

        CO’s method isn’t in the cards, and I doubt there are 51 votes for tossing the rules of procedure completely. (I doubt there are 31). I’m not actually sure what happens if the resulting law is challenged in the courts, but I know what happens to it when it gets to the House. If the point of the exercise is to put the House in a PR hole, this would seem to me to be exactly the wrong way to do it.

  4. @ Joe,

    I’ll believe that Frank Wolf will cross the line when he crosses it and not before. His problem isn’t the federal employees or the businesses that are being alienated by the shutdown. Most of these people aren’t going to be showing up at the polls for the Republican primary in March or June but the Tea Party/Birchers will and that’s what counts.

  5. There are a number of good reasons to consider getting rid of the filibuster, or changing how it is used and under what conditions.

    I don’t think the debt ceiling is one of them. The fact that the debt ceiling threatens the full failth and credit of the US is a good reason to get rid of the debt ceiling. It is useless and redundant. Congress sets borrowing when then set spending and taxation levels. It’s an empty headed conceipt of Republican morons that not raising the debt ceiling will stop the President from spending out of control. By their logic, if the debt ceiling were set at $300 trillion, then the President could decide to spend that much by borrowing. He can not.

    1. If the Republicans capture the Senate in 2014, say 52-48, do you think they will actually honor Democratic filibusters or “holds” whether the Senate rules are nominally changed or not? This is a one-way valve, and not in favor of the progressive outlook.


  6. If the Republicans were rational, they’D pass the debt ceiling with a big show about how patriotic and rational they’re being and then challenge the WH to negotiate on the CR. If the Democrats were smart, they’d propose a budget at pre-sequester levels plus some stimulus so they don’t go into budget negotiations with their “want ” defined as the sequestered budget. For obvious reasons, things are unlikely to play out that way.

  7. does the rules change passed last night which requires any request for action on this bill to come from the majority leader or his designee mean that a discharge petition would no longer be viable?

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