GOP's looming debt ceiling disaster: Filibuster may be coming

Republican Sen. Mark Kirk has said he'd vote for a clean debt limit raise. His colleagues are less forthcoming

By Josh Eidelson

Published October 8, 2013 8:23PM (EDT)

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.                       (Reuters/Jason Reed)
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. (Reuters/Jason Reed)

As Salon’s Brian Beutler and others have reported, Senate Democrats are moving to test Republican claims that the votes aren’t there in the Senate to raise the debt ceiling without Democratic concessions. (Beutler wrote Monday that Majority Leader Harry Reid plans to revive a gambit previously pitched by Mitch McConnell, under which over half of Congress could cast votes against raising the debt ceiling, and barring a two-thirds majority, the president could do it anyway.)

An aide to Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin told Yahoo!’s Chris Moody that every senator in the Democratic Caucus would vote for a “clean” debt ceiling increase. Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk yesterday became the first Republican to say he’d do so as well. So how many of his Republican colleagues would join him – or at least allow an up-or-down vote?

To overcome a potential filibuster, the Democratic majority would need another five Republicans to at least join Kirk in voting for cloture – allowing the measure to come up for a vote.

Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson told me in an interview Monday night that he would oppose both a clean debt ceiling increase and a plan to let the president raise it unless two-thirds of Congress overrode him. Johnson called such an approach “basically granting President Obama the authority to raise the debt ceiling without any fiscal discipline, no additional reforms to the long-term entitlements programs that simply aren’t sustainable.” And “because I know 51 could pass it,” he said, “I would block cloture.” Asked if he’d personally initiate a filibuster, Johnson said he didn’t think he’d have to, because “there would be a lot of us that would not support cloture on that.”

But how many? As Salon's Joan Walsh notes, Maine Republican Susan Collins told Politico she wasn't "going to prejudge what's going to happen," and she had "no problem" with using the debt ceiling "to deal with important fiscal issues." John McCain told ABC's Jeff Zeleny he wanted "to see what the dynamic is."

Most Senate Republicans did not respond to my midday inquiries yesterday about whether they’d vote for, or support cloture on, a clean debt ceiling increase. The press secretary for Wyoming’s Michael Enzi, who’s being challenged in next year’s primary by Liz Cheney, emailed that the senator “would oppose it,” because “There needs to be a path to cut government spending and balance the budget so there aren’t these annual contrived crises …We have to cut up the credit cards and quit extending our own credit limit.”

Others were -- like Collins and McCain -- less direct. A spokesperson for Georgia’s Johnny Isakson emailed only, “He is willing to sit down and negotiate with anyone. At the same time, he would need to see the plan before he could ever make a decision.” A spokesperson for Utah’s Orrin Hatch, who survived a 2012 Tea Party primary challenge, referred Salon to a September Wall Street Journal Op-Ed in which the senator said, “I do not believe the United States should default on our debt,” but also that it was “imperative that Congress uses the impending debt ceiling to consider, frankly and honestly, how to tame the high and rising national debt.” Hatch wrote that “Mr. Obama must negotiate” and “shouldn’t be afraid of doing the right thing for the country.”

A spokesperson for Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator who worked with Democrats on immigration reform and faces a Tea Party primary challenge next year, wrote simply, “On the debt ceiling, he’s said repeatedly he wants to see a plan to get us out of debt.”

Josh Eidelson

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Debt Ceiling Democrats Economy Filibuster Gop Republicans Senate