Congress has until roughly Dec. 15 to raise the nation’s borrowing limit, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who has warned that the mid-December date is when the government will no longer be able to fully pay its bills.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer Chuck SchumerStandoff scraps speedy deal on Senate defense bill prior to Thanksgiving Defund Biden: The best way to put America on a budget Schumer: Emissions decreases ‘not sufficient’ without meeting White House environmental justice standard MORE (D-N.Y.) and GOP Leader Mitch McConnell Addison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense and National Security — Presented by Boeing — Senate punts on guard bill On The Money — House Democrats pass Biden’s huge bill The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by ExxonMobil – House to vote on Biden social spending bill after McCarthy defer MORE (Ky.) are dialing down the drama as they attempt to an escape hatch from another high-stakes fight over the debt ceiling.
On the surface, the deadline sets the stage for round two of a bruising fight between the Senate leaders, who spent weeks in open warfare in the lead-up to the October debt ceiling vote, each walking far out onto limbs in their game of one-upmanship.
But instead, McConnell and Schumer, who their colleagues say rarely talk, are publicly pulling their punches for now in what senators view as a marriage of necessity — with the global economy hanging in the balance — rather than a love match between the two adversaries.
“I don’t know that it’s necessarily a thaw. I just think there’s a realization that this has to get done,” Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican, said.
Asked if he was picking up bipartisan vibes between the two, Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) replied, “No.”
“I feel just pragmatic people finally getting together,” Cramer added.
McConnell and Schumer have served in the Senate together for more than 20 years, but their relationship is notoriously icy, though not as openly hostile as the relationship between the GOP leader and former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.).
The two have deal-making, pragmatic streaks in their political genes, a commonality that sparked hope before Schumer took over the Senate Democrats’ top spot in 2017 that they could figure out a way to function well together. And there have been moments of levity, including joking about bourbon together when Schumer spoke at the University of Louisville in 2018 after the two cut a budget deal and trading quips earlier this year when Schumer swooped in to beat McConnell to a weekly press conference.
But they’re also personality opposites, with Schumer continuously feeling out his caucus in person or via his infamous flip phone, while McConnell’s thinking is at times hard to decipher even to his closest allies in the GOP. And there have been heated fights between them, including three Supreme Court confirmation battles that battered the Senate. Schumer’s fiery floor speech after 11 Republicans helped advance the short-term debt hike in October, while ultimately voting against the bill, initially appeared to have nixed any chance of an agreement on the upcoming debt fight.
McConnell, in a letter sent to Biden the day after the speech, argued that Schumer “poisoned the well” with his remarks, which the GOP leader compared to a “tantrum.” “I write to inform you that I will not provide such assistance again if your all-Democrat government drifts into another avoidable crisis,” McConnell wrote at the time.
But temperatures appeared to have cooled between the two since then, with both being careful to not draw hard lines during recent back-to-back press conferences. “We cannot let the full faith and credit of the United States lapse, and we are focusing on getting this done in a bipartisan way,” Schumer told reporters.
Asked about Democrats wanting the debt ceiling to be bipartisan, McConnell sidestepped, instead predicting that “we’ll figure out how to avoid default. We always do.” The two had a rare in-person meeting — a day after two sources told The Hill that they were talking — with McConnell saying afterward that they had a “good conversation.”
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