‘Shot Ourselves in the Foot’: Graham Says GOP ‘Blinked’ on Debt Ceiling Opposition Pledge

© AP Photo / Greg NashSen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks during a Senate Budget Committee hearing to discuss President Joe Biden's budget request for FY 2022 on Tuesday, June 8, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks during a Senate Budget Committee hearing to discuss President Joe Biden's budget request for FY 2022 on Tuesday, June 8, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington - Sputnik International, 1920, 08.10.2021
Republicans are licking their wounds on Friday after 11 senators crossed the aisle the day prior to vote for increasing the debt ceiling after pledging for months not to support the Democrats’ political agenda. However, they will soon have the chance to fight again, as the increase will only last until December.
In a surprising move on Thursday, 61 senators - all 50 Democrats plus 11 Republicans - moved to clear the way for a vote on raising the debt ceiling. In the vote that followed, the 50 Democrats succeeded in passing the bill as 48 voted against it and two abstained.
In exchange for their support, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) changed the increase to be by a specific dollar amount - $480 billion - instead of the outright suspension the Democrats had sought. The increase will last the federal government until December.
Speaking to Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Thursday evening after the vote, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who was not one of the 11 aisle-crossers, said the GOP had “blinked” after two months of promising their supporters they would oppose the Democratic agenda.
“We screwed up. For two months, we promised our base and the American people that we would not help the Democratic Party raise the debt ceiling so they could spend $3.5 to $5 trillion through reconciliation,” he told Hannity. “At the end of the day, we blinked.”
“Two things have happened: We let our people down, and we made Democrats believe that we are all talk and no action. At the end of the day, every Republican voted against raising the debt ceiling, every Democratic senator voted for it. But we had a process in place. We made a promise, for two months, that we would make them do it without our help and we folded, and I hate that. We’re in a hole; we’ve got to dig out of this hole and we can. We shot ourselves in the foot tonight, but we will revisit this issue in December,” he added.
When Hannity pressed him on why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had buckled at the last minute, Graham said the Democrats had threatened to invoke the “nuclear option,” a parliamentary procedure that would annul the filibuster rule. “We cannot live like that,” he said.
"When President Trump was in power, he asked us to change the rules every day, wanting us to get our way, and I said ‘no.’ So I have no sympathy for the Democratic Party threatening to use the filibuster to implement their socialist agenda,” Graham added. "At the end of the day, we cannot be extorted and live this way. We should have stood our ground and played this out. I don't believe they would have blown up the Senate over this."
The filibuster has been an essential tool for Senate Republicans to stonewall much of Biden’s political agenda, including the massive infrastructure bill currently being debated, as well as the American Families Plan and the Equality Act. The rule allows lawmakers to continue debate indefinitely, preventing a bill from being brought to a vote, and can be overridden by a 60-vote supermajority.
Things can change quickly in Capitol Hill politics, as the sudden debt ceiling deal proves, but as late as Wednesday, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat seen as a kingmaker for any Senate deal, said he would be against invoking the nuclear option to force the debt ceiling bill through.
Raising the debt ceiling allows the federal government to borrow more money, which is used to both finance its programs, as well as to service the interest on the existing debt. If the ceiling had not been raised, the US would have faced a default on its debts, something it’s never done before that could seriously affect its credit rating.
Earlier this week, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who formerly chaired the Federal Reserve, the US’s state bank, warned that if the debt ceiling wasn’t raised by October 18, it would plunge the US into an economic recession and undermine the world’s confidence in the US dollar as a reserve currency.
“It would be catastrophic to not pay the government’s bills, for us to be in a position where we lack the resources to pay the government’s bills,” Yellen told CNBC’s Andrew Sorkin on Tuesday. “It really undermines confidence in the full faith and credit of the United States, our willingness to stand behind our debts, and [to] make sure that we pay them.”
The debt ceiling isn’t an inherent part of American politics, either: it was created in 1917 as the US government sold massive amounts of Liberty Bonds to finance its entry into the First World War. Since then, it has been increased more than 100 times and presently stands at $28.5 trillion. Unless the federal government ends its annual deficit spending - either by slashing costs or raising taxes and tariffs - the US national debt will steadily increase.
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