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Washington remains divided over process as debt limit nears

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Joe Biden
Joe Biden looks down as he delivers remarks on the U.S. debt ceiling from the State Dining Room of the White House, on Oct. 4, 2021.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

WASHINGTON — For a second week in a row, process — not policy or substance — is dominating the political discussion in the nation’s capital.

Last week, the process argument was over which legislative vehicle the Democratic-controlled U.S. House should vote on first: the Senate-passed bipartisan infrastructure bill or the still-being-negotiated reconciliation package?

This week, the process debate is over how Senate Democrats should raise the debt limit without cooperation from Republicans.

Should it be via a simple up-or-down vote (as President Biden and Democrats want)?

“Republicans just have to let us do our job. Just get out of the way,” Biden said yesterday.

Or should it be via the reconciliation process (as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republicans are demanding)?

“Now, they’ve got no problem using the party-line process over and over and over to spend trillions and transform the country,” McConnell said of Senate Democrats. “But now for this purpose only they suddenly and mysteriously find it unappealing?”

So we’re talking about process — when more than 700,000 Americans have died during this pandemic, when there are legitimate worries about the health of the U.S. democracy and when there’s a looming economic disaster on the horizon if the debt limit isn’t raised.

That leads us to believe that this debt-ceiling standoff, ultimately, is going to get resolved.

Why? Because the governing party gets judged by results, not process.

“The party in power gets the blame when things go bad; get credit when things go well. Doesn’t mean they always deserve either. But, voters don’t care about process,” the Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter reminds us.

What McConnell wants is chaos

But also make no mistake here: McConnell is playing politics — and sowing chaos — with the debt limit.

“[T]wo weeks before a potentially catastrophic default, Mr. McConnell has yet to reveal what he wants, telling President Biden in a letter on Monday, ‘We have no list of demands,’” the New York Times writes.

“Instead, he appears to want to sow political chaos for Democrats while insulating himself and other Republicans from an issue that has the potential to divide them.”

Yet if Democrats really want to get back at McConnell, the way to do so isn’t to hold firm on insisting a simple up-or-down vote.

Instead, it’s to ensure that this is the last time he (or anyone else) can play politics with the nation’s debt limit.

Biden heads to Michigan

At 10:15 a.m. ET, President Biden meets virtually with House Democrats to discuss his legislative agenda.

Afterwards, he travels to Howell, Mich., where he will sell both the bipartisan infrastructure deal, as well as the social-welfare reconciliation package. His speech there is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET.

Interestingly, Howell is part of the congressional district represented by at-risk moderate Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., who has been on the record supporting infrastructure first before dealing with reconciliation.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

2.76 billion: The number of people, per Facebook estimates, who use a Facebook product in a given day.

6 hours: How long Facebook products were down for on Monday.

7,099: The number of Haitian nationals expelled by the Biden administration since Sept. 19, per the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration.

90 percent: The Pfizer Covid vaccine’s effectiveness at preventing hospitalization after six months, per a new major study.

47 percent: What the same study found for the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness at preventing infection after six months.

43,881,237: The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 164,907 more since yesterday morning.)

708,000: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 2,115 more since yesterday morning.)

396,919,564: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC. (That’s 984,739 more since yesterday morning.)

56 percent: The share of all Americans who are fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

67.3 percent: The share of all U.S. adults at least 18 years of age who are fully vaccinated, per CDC.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The Facebook whistleblower is testifying in front of Congress Tuesday.

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins is stepping down after 12 years at the helm, serving under three presidents.

The Biden administration reversed a Trump administration decision and will now allow family planning centers that receive federal funds to refer patients for abortions.

A top State Department official is leaving the Biden administration and, per Politico, criticizing the administration’s use of a public health measure to deport migrants “inhumane.”

Combat veteran Marjorie Eastman is jumping into the crowded North Carolina Senate GOP primary.