07.31.10

Has Congress Already Missed Its Deadline?

With the clock ticking toward default, can Congress physically get a bill implemented by Tuesday? Daniel Stone reports on the likelihood that the debt deal will be passed before the deadline.

With the clock ticking toward default, one lingering question is how a deal crafted between the White House and Congress can be passed before Tuesday, given all the parliamentary rules on Capitol Hill.

As the debt agreement comes together, White House officials cautioned Sunday afternoon that there are still many particulars, including how and when the trigger mechanism will kick in to ensure a second round of cuts at the end of this year.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, and even the White House have signaled that a deal is very close, suggesting that Sunday may bring an endgame to the months-long crisis over raising the country’s debt limit.

But one secondary concern is how a potential deal will be enacted legislatively, considering the time constraints of raising the nation’s ability to borrow more money prior to the Tuesday deadline for default. The House of Representatives can fast-track any vote almost at a moment’s notice, but the Senate is held to rules of debate, offering any senator unlimited time to talk unless the debate is cut off by 60 percent of the Senate. And once cloture is reached by a super majority, debate still extends for 30 more hours.

Several avenues have emerged to vote on a bill that could reach President Obama by Tuesday. Majority Leader Harry Reid’s bill in the Senate was brought for a cloture vote on Sunday at 1 p.m. but as expected was defeated. One goal is still to use the bill as a legislative vehicle for an impending package, which would thus make a Sunday compromise immune to the usual rules and time constraints of the Senate.

As such, Reid actually voted against his own bill in order to allow him to reintroduce it with amendments for another vote later in the day.

Another option, according to Republican Hill sources, is that the Senate would use a completely different bill—specifically the military construction appropriations bill, which is in the Senate queue—as the legislative vehicle for a final compromise.

But that arrangement would likely only be for a temporary debt-limit increase, effectively a Band-Aid over the debt crisis until a formal measure could be drafted and finalized later in the week. Throughout the debate, the White House has opposed a short-term measure, but said it would accommodate “any necessary measures,” Jay Carney told reporters last week, if legislators brushed too close to the deadline and needed a few more days for a formal bill.