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Senate Dems poised to move on debt-ceiling bill

Associated Press

The deadline for Congress acting on the debt ceiling will likely come as early as next week, and for now, in the halls of Capitol Hill, nothing is happening.

At least in the upper chamber, that's about to change.

Senate Democratic leaders will move forward this week on a measure to raise the government's legal borrowing limit without any policy strings attached, answering House Republicans' taunts that Democrats would not force their politically vulnerable senators to cast that difficult vote.

The first vote on raising the debt ceiling, by an amount large enough to get the government through the 2014 elections, could come as early as Friday; the deadline is Oct. 17.

I should note that the "as early as" qualifier is worth keeping an eye on. The Treasury Department originally set the Oct. 17 deadline, but the government shutdown has an effect on federal finances, and it's possible that the deadline may change slightly as a result.

Regardless, Senate Dems aren't inclined to wait for House Republicans to play games with the full faith and credit of the United States, so they're going to advance a clean, straightforward bill that would protect the country from the consequences of yet another self-imposed crisis.

I know Democrats have their own message gurus, but my suggestion would be to take this opportunity to draw some contrasts and drive the point home to reporters preoccupied with blame-both-sides drama and he-said-she-said reports. If I were a Senate Democratic leader, I'd stress at a press conference, "We're offering this debt-ceiling bill with no conditions. We're not making any demands of Republicans; we're not asking for any concessions from Republicans; we're not playing any games. There are no liberal goodies in this bill or extraneous measures tacked on from our policy agenda. We just want to do the right thing for the country -- with no strings attached."

The point, of course, would be to challenge Republicans to be equally responsible. It's become necessary, I'd argue, to make pronouncements like these to remind the political world that Democrats could make demands before they complete basic governmental tasks, but they choose to be more responsible.

If you're anything like me, your next question is, "Will this clean debt-limit extension be subject to a Republican filibuster?"

The answer, of course, is yes. All 54 Senate Democrats are reportedly prepared to support a clean debt-ceiling bill, but that would present Senate Republicans with an interesting challenge: either six of them allow a vote on the bill or they push the nation closer to a default crisis.

So, what are the odds? Not bad, actually. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has already expressed preliminary support for a clean debt-ceiling bill, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) suggested he's open to the possibility. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was asked if she'd be willing to proceed with a clean measure, and she replied, "I want to proceed on anything."

It's not exactly a secret that many Senate Republicans hate their party's government shutdown, have grown to despise Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and think the House GOP is a little nutty. With this in mind, don't be too surprised if there are six Senate Republicans who are inclined to skip the debt-ceiling mishigas.

And if the votes come together in the upper chamber, the pressure would then once again fall on House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his merry band of unhinged House Republicans. The Senate will have approved a debt-ceiling increase with bipartisan support; the White House will be eager to sign the measure into law; and 200 House Democrats will be on board. It'll be up to Boehner to decide -- find 18 House Republicans willing to do the right thing or start hurting Americans on purpose because Dems wouldn't meet GOP demands.

Tick tock.