Ted Cruz threatens to filibuster Democrats' debt ceiling hike, throwing wrench into McConnell's plan

The Texas senator accused Democrats of seeking "political cover" in their bid for a bipartisan debt deal

By Jon Skolnik

Staff Writer

Published October 7, 2021 6:08PM (EDT)

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images)
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) (Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images)

As Republicans and Democrats slowly inch toward a temporary compromise on suspending the nation's debt ceiling, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., signaled on Thursday that he plans to throw a wrench into the entire effort, suggesting that he won't allow Democrats to avoid a Republican filibuster. 

"Democrats have the full ability to raise the debt ceiling as a part of reconciliation," Cruz told POLITICO on Thursday. "They want political cover."

"They have 100 percent control and ability to raise the debt ceiling on reconciliation. And the only reason they wouldn't do so is to play political games," the conservative added.

The development centers on the now months-long legislative standstill over the U.S. debt limit, a number that is set by Congress and has become a perennial issue in recent years. Economists have warned it will need to be lifted soon to avert a federal default. 

Over the past several months, Republicans and Democrats have played a game of political brinkmanship with respect to the debt ceiling, each prodding the other to make the first move. While Democrats have pushed for a bipartisan debt ceiling hike, Republicans have urged their colleagues across the aisle to execute the move via budget reconciliation – an arduous process with an uncertain time frame. Reconciliation would allow Democrats to avoid a Republican filibuster — but with a potential default looming, Democrats have begun to consider more seriously the idea of scrapping the filibuster altogether, at least temporarily. 

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In a Thursday detente, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., agreed to support a short-term debt extension, giving Democrats ample time to properly undertake the process of reconciliation. However, the deal will still need to garner a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate, meaning that McConnell will need to get ten Senate Republicans onboard – a task that may prove challenging, given the current political climate among Republicans. 

"As you might expect, it's not an easy one to whip," Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., put it to POLITICO Thursday, adding that the task is a "difficult birthing process."

Over the past several weeks, Republicans have pushed the specious notion that Democrats are largely to blame for the nation's debt, which has climbed from $5 trillion in 2000 to about $27 trillion in 2021. But according to a ProPublica report, Donald Trump ran up the nation's debt by nearly $8 trillion over the course of his presidency. 

Cruz has said that the Democrats want to "shift political blame" onto Republicans by asking the GOP to back a debt ceiling hike. 

"They basically want us to be aiders and abettors to their reckless spending and tax policies, and we just aren't going to do it," echoed Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., to The Washington Post this week.

But Democrats have argued that there is blame on both sides.

"Neither party can wash its hands of responsibility to pay the bills," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "Leader McConnell keeps talking about the new spending that Democrats have done. That's not this debt."

The Senate needs to reach an agreement before roughly Oct. 18 in order to avoid default, which could send the nation into a significant recession.

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 Ceiling Democrats Filibuster Gop Mitch Mcconnell Politics Reconciliation Republicans Senate Ted Cruz