Senate Democrats are vocally unenthused with the debt ceiling deal struck by the White House and House Republicans last week — but largely indicated they are still willing to support it in order to avert a catastrophic default that officials warn would occur Monday.
Democrats returned to Capitol Hill trying to wrap their heads around the compromise package and many were quick to lay out their concerns with the 99-page bill, headlined by cuts to discretionary spending and the proposed completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP).
However, they, by and large, are keeping their powder dry and propping the door open to ultimately support the bill and ensure the nation doesn’t fail to meet its debt obligations. The measure is expected to get enough Democratic votes in the upper chamber to pass.
“I’m going to read it very carefully before voting. I’m far from ecstatic about some of its provisions, but overall, that’s the nature of compromise, and the overriding goal is to avoid default with the least possible cause,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told The Hill.
Despite concessions, multiple Senate Democrats argued the deal between President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) could have been worse, and the president managed to keep out some of the most contentious sections of the Republican debt limit bill that passed the House in late April.
“We have avoided some of the more devastating effects of the Republican bill. … My analysis is that it’s much more reasonable and constructive than we might have feared it would be,” Blumenthal said. “It could have been absolutely devastating and I think the nation has dodged a bullet.”
Senate Democrats aren’t the only ones alarmed by the bill, which has been panned by conservatives in both chambers and liberals in the House.
Progressive House Democrats have warned there could be resistance to the bill, particularly its spending caps and new work requirements.
“There will be real harmful impacts for poor people and working people being barred from income support that they not just desperately need, but frankly, that they deserve,” Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said Tuesday. “There will be impacts for environmental justice and the fight against the climate crisis and the rescissions in funding — many of which we still don’t have clarity about.”
Still, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday vowed to deliver enough House Democratic votes to pass the measure on Wednesday. Treasury Department Secretary Janet Yellen has warned the U.S. will default on June 5 if Congress does not act on the debt ceiling.
Thus far, only one leading Senate Democrat has committed to voting for the bill: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). Other top Democrats have the door ajar to supporting it while indicating they might have to swallow some bitter pills to do so.
Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat who rarely sides against Schumer on votes, told reporters he is continuing to look at the bill and relayed his concern about potential cuts to health agencies, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in the form of the rescission of $30 billion in unobligated COVID-19 public health funding.
“I want to get to ‘yes,’ but I want to study it some more,” Durbin said of the overall bill before saying that it remains unclear to him how much of a haircut the NIH will be taking in this debt ceiling bill.
“I’m worried about what happens to them under this budget deal,” he said.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told reporters that she is continuing to review the bill and has yet to make up her mind. Nevertheless, she panned portions of the agreement and told reporters that she has “real concerns” about changes in the bill related to work requirements, student debt repayments, climate change and taxes on the wealthy.
“Those things are bad. Really bad,” she said, “I’m weighing it against the fact that the Republicans are hostage takers, and they’re willing to blow up the economy and destroy our good name across the world, and the Democrats are called on once again to be the grownups in the room. And the grownups in the room are the ones who have to make hard choices, while the not-grownups keep having tantrums that hurt people across this country.”
Democrats are also weighing how to handle the permitting language included in the bill that will greenlight the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s (MVP) completion — an item Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has pushed hard in recent years.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who helped kill off the pipeline’s progress late last year, told reporters that he is seeking an amendment vote when the bill comes over to the upper chamber later this week. He did not say what voting threshold he is seeking it at.
“I’m insisting on an amendment,” Kaine said. “It’s a classic kind of a compromise. Things I like, things I don’t like. But the MVP is different, because it has nothing to do with debt, nothing to do with spending and it’s a really important project to Virginians.”
“It just ought to go through a regular process and not get a green light,” Kaine said. “I have had to defeat this already four or five times, and I have been able to do it. I never thought they’d put it on a debt ceiling bill after saying we should take up these matters separately, but here we are.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) added that he has “enormous concerns” related to the pipeline but declined to say how he will vote on the final bill
Democrats were hesitant, however, to lay blame at the feet of Biden and his deputies, despite the president’s declarations for months that he would not negotiate on the debt ceiling and wanted a clean bill, which Senate Democrats widely supported. Warren instead argued that Biden shouldn’t have been in a position to make a deal in the first place.
“I think that he should never have been put in this position. We should have raised the debt ceiling last November when Democrats were still in charge,” Warren said.
When asked if she’s relayed her concerns to the White House, she added that she “tells everybody” about them.