Mitch McConnell slammed by both Trump and Senate Democrats following debt ceiling standoff

McConnell's detente gives Democrats two and a half more months to suspend the debt ceiling and avoid default

By Jon Skolnik

Staff Writer

Published October 7, 2021 11:51AM (EDT)

Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Donald Trump accused Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., of "folding" in the current debt ceiling standoff after the legislator signaled that he would support a short-term extension, allowing the federal government to avoid default for the time being. 

"Looks like Mitch McConnell is folding to the Democrats, again," Trump said in a Wednesday statement. "He's got all of the cards with the debt ceiling, it's time to play the hand. Don't let them destroy our country!"

For the past several months, Democrats and Republicans have been at a standstill in negotiating a new limit for the nation's debt ceiling, which has skyrocketed from roughly $5 trillion in 2000 to about $27 trillion today. Democrats have argued for a bipartisan plan to raise the ceiling by October 18, when the country is expected to default if Congress fails to act. But McConnell has repeatedly encouraged the Democrats to do so on their own via budget reconciliation. Budget reconciliation would avoid the inevitable filibuster Republicans would use to impede a Democratic-backed debt ceiling hike, but reconciliation would have been an arduous process with no guarantee of completion before the default deadline. 

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Trump, for his part, has been adamantly opposed to negotiating a debt deal with the Democrats, often chiding Republicans from the sidelines – even with the nation's economy on the brink of collapse. 

"The way I look at it, what the Democrats are proposing, on so many different levels, will destroy our country," Trump said in a September statement. "Therefore, Republicans have no choice but to do what they have to do, and the Democrats will have no choice but to concede all of the horror they are trying to inflict upon the future of the United States."

On Wednesday, McConnell offered a slight legislative detente, agreeing to let the Democrats suspend the debt ceiling until December. This will give the caucus more time to employ a budgetary tactic that would allow them to raise the ceiling without any Republican support. 

Democrats have widely heralded the move as a sign of McConnell finally backing down.

"McConnell caved," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., told a gaggled of reporters late Wednesday. "And now we're going to spend our time doing child care, health care, and fighting climate change." 

It's possible that McConnell ultimately backed down because Democrats were threatening to "nuke" the filibuster in order to approve a debt ceiling suspension, as POLITICO noted. In fact, President Biden – who previously stressed the need to preserve the filibuster – recently said that scrapping it was becoming a "real possibility."

"The filibuster is McConnell's instrument of obstruction," one Democratic senator told POLITICO. "He wants to protect that at all costs. He was at real risk of overplaying his hand as he faced the growing prospect that we would have 51 votes to waive it for the purpose of dealing with debt."

By Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik is a staff writer at Salon. His work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Baffler, and The New York Daily News.

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Brief Debt Limit Deficit Mitch Mcconnell Republicans Senate Senate Democrats Trump