The Senator Who Cried Debt Crisis

October 28, 2021

As President Biden decamps for a global climate summit in Scotland, he leaves major legislative issues unresolved. A deal with Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema slimming down the Biden-Sanders welfare state expansion, nominally priced at $3.5 trillion, remains elusive. There’s no fiscal 2022 federal budget, as the government is funded with a continuing resolution through Dec. 3. The House hasn’t voted on the bipartisan infrastructure bill the Senate passed in August, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi fears its approval might doom the Biden-Sanders proposal.

Then there’s raising the debt ceiling, which Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen calls “utterly essential.” Despite her plea, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer hasn’t started the budget-reconciliation process, which allows Democrats to increase the debt limit by themselves, thereby avoiding a default by the U.S. on its financial obligations.

Instead, Mr. Schumer insists that while Democrats run the Senate, Republicans must provide the votes to do that. He isn’t even pleasant about it.

Consider what happened after Oct. 6, when Minority Leader Mitch McConnell led nine other GOP senators to join all 50 Democrats in voting to extend the debt ceiling to early December. The Kentucky Republican wanted to give Democrats plenty of time to use the reconciliation process for a lasting fix.

Mr. Schumer repaid the courtesy the next day with a scathing attack. “Republicans played a dangerous and risky partisan game, and I am glad that their brinkmanship did not work,” he declared on the Senate floor. Mr. Schumer rejected the idea that Democrats should use reconciliation to raise the debt ceiling, saying that was a “drawn-out, convoluted and risky” process that was “simply unacceptable.” He also praised Democrats for having “pulled our country back from the cliff’s edge that Republicans tried to push us over.” Sitting behind Mr. Schumer, a dumbfounded Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) covered his face and shook his head in embarrassment.

The Biden White House joined the attacks, heralding Congress’s success in “putting a disastrous debt standoff behind us” and warning Republicans against “triggering another showdown that would jeopardize millions of jobs.”

What Mr. Schumer and the White House said was hypocritical nonsense.

For one thing, it’s entirely within Mr. Schumer’s power to use reconciliation. He simply doesn’t want Democrats going on the record voting down the Republican amendments that reconciliation allows. He also doesn’t want to chew up precious floor time that he could otherwise devote to approving Mr. Biden’s controversial nominees or showcasing bills that might improve Democratic chances in the 2022 midterm elections.

For another, Mr. Schumer knows he’s blowing the danger of debt brinkmanship out of proportion and only pretending to hold to principle. He has voted against raising the debt limit when Republicans held the presidency and the Senate.

While George W. Bush was president, Mr. Schumer voted three times against raising the debt ceiling—H.J.R. 51 on May 27, 2003; S. 2986 on Nov. 17, 2004; and H.J.R. 47 on March 16, 2006. This came after Democrats forced votes on eight politically sensitive amendments. Are we to believe Mr. Schumer’s ethics got the better of him and he regrets playing games with the nation’s good faith and credit while our troops were in combat in Iraq? Perish the thought.

Mr. Schumer isn’t the only Democratic legislative hot dog. Then-Sen. Biden and Rep. Pelosi also opposed raising the debt limit on all three occasions. Mrs. Pelosi also voted against a June 2002 debt-ceiling increase that Messrs. Schumer and Biden supported.

Democrats are happy to force Republicans to do the heavy lifting to increase the debt limit when the GOP is in charge. In 2006, for example, Mr. Biden defended his vote to let America default on its obligations by condemning the Bush administration’s “utter disregard for our nation’s financial future.” He declared: “I refuse to be associated with the policies that brought us to this point.” He was joined by Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who characterized raising the debt limit as “a sign of leadership failure.” As president, Mr. Obama adopted a much different attitude, signing nine debt-ceiling suspensions or increases.

Now Mr. Biden, Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer demand Republicans do what Democrats refused to do in the past. It’s a cynical political maneuver from the party that’s in charge.

It ain’t pretty that Democrats and Republicans alike leave it to the majority party to raise the debt ceiling, with Republicans occasionally trading their support for cuts in spending. The system isn’t working the way it should, and both parties are responsible. Still, Mr. Schumer’s duplicity, combined with his sanctimony, is a bad look. Just ask the Democratic senator from the Mountain State.


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