Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday dug into their positions on how the debt ceiling should be raised as the United States lurched yet another day closer to default with no progress on a deal to avoid it.
McConnell, R-Ky., said in a press conference that Democrats should use the budget reconciliation process to raise the debt ceiling along party lines. This has been Republicans' position for months. They argue that because Democrats are pushing through their massive spending agenda on party line, they should raise the debt ceiling that way too.
"The debt ceiling needs to be addressed. The only question is who should address it," McConnell said. "I hope our friends on the other side will step up and take care of it."
Schumer, D-N.Y., meanwhile has refused to consider raising the debt ceiling using reconciliation. He us instead pushing to do so under regular order, which would include at least one bipartisan cloture vote. The Democratic leader and his top lieutenants are arguing that Republicans are irresponsibly jeopardizing the U.S economy to score political points.
"A first ever default on the would be catastrophic for our economy and gravely harm Americans all across this country," Schumer said. "We can avoid a debt ceiling crisis altogether if Republicans will just get out of the way… Democrats are working to prevent a default and Republicans are deliberately making it more likely to happen."
The House of Representatives passed a bill last week to suspend the debt ceiling until late next year. Schumer plans to bring that up for a cloture vote – meaning a vote to proceed to a final vote on the bill – on Wednesday. That will require 60 yeas, and therefore the support of at least 10 Republicans.
Schumer in his Tuesday comments made a distinction between cloture vote and the final vote to raise the debt ceiling.
"I'm not asking them to vote yes. Just get out of the way," Schumer said. "The Senate will hold that vote tomorrow. And once again every senator will face a choice. We can stop this Republican-manufactured debt ceiling crisis in its tracks or Republicans can keep driving this country every closer to its first default in American history."
Schumer added: "All we need is 10 Republicans to vote with us and none of them have to vote to raise the debt ceiling."
But Republicans have already indicated they will vote against a cloture motion, and the Wednesday vote is likely to fail in the face of a filibuster.
It is unclear what Democrats' plan would be after that point. Schumer and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., have each said in recent days that using the reconciliation process is off the table.
Schumer delved into why he is against reconciliation on Tuesday.
"Reconciliation is a drawn-out, convoluted and risky process with default and downgrade hovering over us. The best way to do it is the way we said," Schumer said.
But Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen also said in recent days that it does not matter how the debt ceiling is increased, and refused to take reconciliation off the table.
"It's really up to Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer to figure out how to get this done in Congress," Yellen also told CNBC Tuesday. "What I can tell you is that it's utterly essential that this be done."
Yellen did acknowledge that raising the debt ceiling is historically a bipartisan effort in her CNBC interview. But she said fundamentally that she simply supports "getting it done."
The U.S. has never defaulted on its debt before but the consensus among economists is that it would be catastrophic for the economy. Yellen said it would trigger a recession.
Both parties are capable of guaranteeing the U.S. doesn't default – Democrats by moving on to reconciliation and Republicans by voting for Schumer's cloture motion.
But neither has taken any steps toward doing so.