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McConnell, Democrats reach tentative deal for short-term fix to debt limit crisis

Lawmakers have until Oct. 18 to lift the ceiling and avoid a default, according to the Treasury Department.
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WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says he will not block a debt limit extension into December, in a tentative deal to temporarily end a partisan standoff just 12 days before the government's deadline to avert default.

Democrats appeared prepared to accept the offer to extend the limit until December, according to multiple Democratic senators and two senior Republican aides.

McConnell proposed Wednesday that Republicans would not filibuster an extension of the debt limit "into December" as long as Democrats put a dollar amount on the increase, giving them more time to enact a long-term solution on their own.

"This will moot Democrats’ excuses about the time crunch they created and give the unified Democratic government more than enough time to pass standalone debt limit legislation through reconciliation," McConnell, R-Ky., in a statement.

The offer could serve as the basis for a short-term fix as the nation faces an October 18 deadline to lift the limit. But it's not a done deal yet as Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Democrats haven't seen a written offer from McConnell.

Democratic senators met Wednesday afternoon and some of them, including Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., emerged saying they're willing to accept a short-term debt limit hike but that they won't agree to use the reconciliation process.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said on MSNBC that Democrats should take a short-term fix so they can "finish up the deal-making between the White House and Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and Sen. [Chuck] Schumer and make sure our caucuses are all united and pass Build Back Better."

Before the meeting, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a close ally of President Joe Biden, said McConnell’s demand for dollar figure would “likely” be problematic for Democrats.

Several Democrats balked at the idea of putting a value on the increase — they would prefer instead to extend the limit until a date — after Republicans have been open about their desire to use the figure to attack them in campaigns next year.

McConnell's statement delayed a procedural vote scheduled for Wednesday that would suspend the borrowing limit through December 2022. The motion needs 60 votes to avert what the Treasury Department warns would be an economic calamity if the country blows past the deadline.

Raising warnings that the offer may not end the stalemate, Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, criticized McConnell’s proposal, calling him “heartless” and suggesting her party reject it.

“Why should we accept any part of a BS offer?” she said.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., tweeted out quickly after McConnell's statement was released: "I will not vote to raise the debt ceiling. Period."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said McConnell's statement is not a formal offer and regardless, "even the scant details that have been reported present more complicated more difficult options than the one that is quite obvious in the president's view."

"So they're discussing up there, we'll obviously be in close touch with them as we will continue to be, and we'll see where we where we are at the end of today," Psaki said at a press briefing Wednesday.

GOP leaders have said for months that they won't support a debt limit hike, although they insist it must be done. They say Democrats should use the complicated budget reconciliation process to bypass the GOP and lift the debt limit on their own.

But President Joe Biden and Democrats have rejected that approach, calling it cumbersome and time-consuming.

Schumer said earlier on Wednesday that the GOP position blocking an increase was “reckless” and “irresponsible,” calling on them to “get out of the way.”

Before McConnell's statement, one option that Senate Democrats said they were considering is changing the filibuster rules to allow a simple majority of the Senate to pass a debt ceiling extension. But that would require all 50 Democratic votes, and the party doesn’t appear to have the unity to do so.

Biden added fuel to the prospect by calling that “a real possibility” on Tuesday evening.