A debt-limit debacle has been avoided — for now. The Senate voted 50-48 late Thursday to extend the ceiling until at least December 3, after Minority Leader McConnell cut a deal with Majority Leader Schumer to allow a vote.
Until mid-week, McConnell had been refusing to work with Schumer on this, hoping to force Democrats to pass a necessary but attack-ad-ready debt-limit hike on their own. So why did McConnell give in?
McConnell draws his significant power from the continued existence of the filibuster, that mechanism that essentially forces most legislation to get 60 votes to pass. Democratic hopes of eliminating the filibuster have been held back by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who are wary of blowing up one of the few tools the minority party has to maintain relevance.
But in recent years, rules have been altered to permit more and more votes to pass with a simple majority, with the filibuster sidelined. President Biden hinted this week that such a carveout might be needed for debt limit votes. That didn’t faze McConnell — but the fact that Manchin and Sinema might be persuaded to back it did.
McConnell does not want the two centrist Democrats to give in at all on the filibuster, fearing any crack in their position might ultimately lead to them deciding to go along with their party and scrap the whole thing. McConnell decided a concession on the debt limit vote — which he knew would pass somehow anyway — was preferable to a threat to the filibuster.