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Debt Ceiling Deal: Have Dems Just Fallen Into a Trap Set by GOP Leader McConnell?

© AP Photo / Susan WalshСпикер Палаты представителей США Нэнси Пелоси и сенатор Митч Макконнелл во время приветствия локтем
Спикер Палаты представителей США Нэнси Пелоси и сенатор Митч Макконнелл во время приветствия локтем  - Sputnik International, 1920, 12.12.2021
The latest debt limit deal struck by Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer plays directly into the GOP's hands, potentially paving the way for their victory – retaking the Senate majority in 2022, argues The Atlantic.
President Joe Biden on 10 December signed a bill to fast-track the process to raise the US debt limit.
The measure was passed in the House of Representatives on 7 December by a vote of 222-212 after weeks-long negotiations between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
14 Senate Republicans on 8 December helped advance the deal concluded by McConnell and Schumer to set up a one-time exemption to the filibuster on raising the debt ceiling. The upper chamber on Thursday voted 64-36 to close debate on the bill. Later in the day, the US Senate passed the one-time rule change in a 59-35 vote to allow Democrats to suspend debt limits ahead of next week’s deadline.
"The nation’s full faith and credit has always been a shared responsibility", President Biden tweeted on Friday. "The bipartisan support of this legislation shows that it is still possible for leaders to work across the aisle and deliver".
At the same time, McConnell came under criticism from his fellow party members for letting the Dems off the hook: earlier, The Wall Street Journal predicted a fierce partisan battle over the debt ceiling akin to the one that unfolded in September-October 2021.
The Senate minority leader "blinked again", allowing the Dems to suspend the debt limit and go ahead with their spending agenda, the Daily News announced.
In October, McConnell's offer to raise the debt limit to a specified figure through December broke the deadlock and was interpreted as a win for the Democratic Party. "McConnell caved", Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told reporters at the time. "And now we're going to spend our time doing child care, health care and fighting climate change".
While Axios suggested in October that McConnell was apparently threatened by the Democrats' fresh calls to go nuclear and modify the filibuster, The National Review argued that the Senate minority leader had set nothing short of a trap for the GOP's political opponents.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., smiles after casting his ballot in the midterm election at the voting precinct at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 - Sputnik International, 1920, 15.10.2021
McConnell's Trap: Is GOP Using Looming Default to Gain Political Points Ahead of 2022 Midterms?
According to a National Review editorial published on 7 October, McConnell was planning to manipulate the Dems into raising the debt limit on their own via the reconciliation mechanism – something that the latter vehemently opposed. The media outlet explained that the Dems had tried to avoid a party-line vote on the debt limit, fearing that it would make them vulnerable to GOP attacks ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

"Republicans, naturally, want the attack-ad opportunities and the votes", the magazine pointed out.

It appears that the National Review's observation was spot on: McConnell has indeed advanced a debt-ceiling measure that "lets Democrats eventually dodge economic disaster all on their own", as Business Insider noted on 9 December. In addition to that, the Senate Republican leader deprived the Dems of an argument in their long-standing effort to weaken the filibuster.

"McConnell has cultivated a reputation over the years as being Machiavellian", The Atlantic wrote on 9 December. "The Republican retreat from a debt-limit showdown was tactical, arising from a position of strength, not weakness".

The Senate minority leader is looking ahead to the 2022 midterms and apparently likes what he sees: the Democrats are "reeling"; "Biden’s approval rating is in the toilet"; the GOP won last month's gubernatorial race in largely Democratic Virginia; "Democratic infighting has kept the president’s already-shrunken economic agenda stalled in the Senate", The Atlantic notes.
Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin speaks during a campaign event in McLean, Virginia, U.S., July 14, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 03.11.2021
GOP's Virginia Win: Mini-Referendum on Biden & 'Temperature Gauge' for 2022 Midterms, Observers Say

"If Democrats are intent on hanging themselves before the midterms next year, McConnell has determined that his best move is to hand them a rope and get out of their way", the magazine highlights.

While McConnell was set to reach his major goal – to leave the Dems raising the debt ceiling on their own – he decided to avoid a protracted fight, according to The Atlantic. On the one hand, it was fraught with a risk of economic fallout. On the other hand, such a partisan fight "would also allow Biden to shift attention away from his own struggles and back to the GOP, reminding voters about the party’s penchant for obstruction", the magazine notes.
McConnell is intent to "keep the midterm campaign a referendum on Biden and his party", The Atlantic says, adding that while the Dems have "gladly" accepted the Republican politician's offer, "the broader victory – a return to the Senate majority – might yet be his".
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