In A Battle Over The Debt Limit, GOP Senators Block A Government Funding Bill

Sep 28, 2021
Originally published on September 28, 2021 9:46 am
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A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Congress is under pressure to keep the government open. A failed vote in the Senate last night is raising concerns about whether lawmakers will meet approaching deadlines to avoid a shutdown at the end of the week and raise the country's debt limit. Here's Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who blamed Republicans for both of these concerns.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: I cannot emphasize that this isn't just another political game. We're facing a parade of horribles that will hurt every single American in this country.

MARTINEZ: The federal government is teetering on a shutdown within three days and the threat of a debt default. NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales has been following this story. All right, so walk us through this vote that failed last night. What happened?

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Republicans blocked Democrats from taking up emergency stopgap funding legislation to keep the government running past the end of the fiscal year, which will be reached at midnight on Thursday. It also suspended the debt limit, something Republicans had vowed to oppose, even though that limit could be reached next month. So in a procedural Senate vote, not one Republican joined Democrats to move forward on this bill, falling short in the evenly divided Senate from the 60 votes that were needed.

MARTINEZ: And Republicans warned they would block this vote, so this can't be a surprise.

GRISALES: Right. The GOP, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, had warned for months that the debt limit was a Democrats-only problem. He reiterated that on the floor last night.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: There is no chance Republicans will help lift Democrats' credit limit so they can immediately steamroll through a socialist binge that will hurt families.

GRISALES: So McConnell is referring to Democrats' proposed $3.5 trillion social spending bill there. But we should note this was expected to get taken up in the House this week, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Democrats last night that will not be the case. That said, Republicans maintain they'll support keeping the government open, but not raising its borrowing power.

MARTINEZ: That's a lot of political gamesmanship, isn't it?

GRISALES: Right - and quite the blame game, too. Democrats had hoped that Republicans would blink first on this. If not, the GOP would own the fallout. But Republicans say the fault actually falls on Democrats since they control the House, Senate and the White House. And there are some polling - there is some polling out there that is on their side when it comes to how Americans view this crisis.

MARTINEZ: So where does this leave Democrats? What's next for them?

GRISALES: They're scrambling. Schumer said after the failed vote that the Senate will take action this week to prevent a shutdown and a default, but first they'll need to revamp their legislation to keep the government open. So in order to reach that 60-vote threshold required in the Senate - that is, getting at least 10 Republicans to vote with Democrats in the Senate - they'll need to remove the debt limit provision from this emergency funding legislation and move it through Congress and to Biden's desk in three days' time if they want to avert that shutdown deadline Thursday. Then they'll need to quickly address how to suspend the debt limit in time next month. It's been advised that they can attach it to the Democrats' social spending bill, which will take even more time to resolve and kind of raise the suspense on whether they can indeed meet this goal by next month. If not, they could face a financial crisis.

MARTINEZ: What about the uncertainty over the House vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill in the budget package?

GRISALES: Right. The House is expected to take up this bipartisan bill, but with progressives in that chamber threatening a revolt since the social spending bill is not ready, it's not clear if this bipartisan bill has the votes now to move forward.

MARTINEZ: Quickly - any indication of how progressives will react to this?

GRISALES: They're raising serious concerns, which is threatening whether this will pass.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Claudia Grisales. Thanks a lot.

GRISALES: Thank you much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.