by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
If you thought the recent fight over health-care reform was fun, get ready for the next big Washington circus: raising the debt ceiling.
In October of 2015, Congress chose to avoid the usual fight over setting a symbolic debt target by agreeing to waive any limit on the debt for 17 months, until March of this year. For the past few months, the Treasury Department has engaged in what it calls “extraordinary measures” to extend the deadline through the end of September. By that time, the U.S. national debt will officially exceed $20 trillion.
As is almost always the case, the big fight will be over whether or not to pass a “clean” increase in the debt ceiling — i.e., one without any amendments. A bill to raise the debt ceiling will require 60 votes in the Senate, effectively giving Democrats veto power over any Republican proposal. If Republicans added a provision supporting Mom, the flag, and apple pie, Democrats could be counted on to oppose it unanimously. Indeed, many Democrats are expected to back a proposal by Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii to abolish the debt limit altogether.
Yet, many Republicans see this as one of their few opportunities for budget leverage. Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson is typical in warning, “I’ve been raising the issue of the debt ceiling for months now, and certainly what I’d like to see is some meaningful, structural control enacted in conjunction with increasing [the debt limit].”