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Republicans Think Yellen Is Crying Wolf

The debt ceiling remains the story of the week. And since Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen dropped the bombshell that the country could hit the ceiling on June 1, there has been a whole bunch of posturing from partisans on both sides. The latest: Many Republicans, particularly in the Senate, say that they think Yellen is fudging things, and that the drop-dead point is not nearly so close as the Secretary suggests.

The notion here, of course, is that the Secretary is scared witless of a default on the debt, and wants to do everything possible to encourage a resolution. Ideally, that resolution would come well before the ceiling is reached, because a close call harms the credit of the United States, even if a default is avoided. So, Yellen could have motivation to lie outright (not too likely) or to be exceedingly over-cautious and pessimistic (much more plausible). And it should be noted that, in making her announcement, the Secretary conceded that she was not certain about the June 1 date, and that the real date could be weeks after that (or more).

The upshot here is that while Democrats, from the President on down, are warning that the sky is about to fall, Senate Republicans feel a little less urgency to get something done. If they are right that June 1 is too early, then their lack of urgency probably won't be a problem. If they are wrong, however, then it could be big trouble. Of course, we can't really know how a game of chicken will play out until the pressure gets intense. It's easy enough on May 3 to take a casual approach. If we get to May 20 and Yellen says, "We have better numbers now, and we were basically on target with June 1," then we'll see if the rubber hits the road or not.

And as long as we are on this subject, we wondered yesterday why House Democrats had to keep their "secret" solution to the debt-ceiling mess (a discharge petition) under wraps. Reader M.P. in Chicago was able to answer that for us:

The reason for keeping the scheme under lock and key is that the plan could otherwise have been foiled by any House committee with jurisdiction over the "Breaking the Gridlock Act" bill.

Once a committee sends a bill to the floor of the House within the time period prescribed by House rules, a discharge petition may no longer be used to discharge that bill from committee. Had the Republican leadership got wind of the Democrats' plan in time, any of the committees with jurisdiction could have voted to send the bill out of committee to the House floor, where it would almost surely have languished.

In theory, a discharge petition could be employed to force a floor vote on a bill that has been voted out of committee, but the clock would begin to run anew when the bill reaches the floor. That would delay action on the bill well beyond June 2023, by which time the United States would likely have defaulted on its debts.

Based on the above, it was imperative that the "scheme" be kept "under lock and key" until the requisite number of legislative days had elapsed without committee action on the bill. Only then could the discharge petition process be employed without further delay.

Thanks, M.P.! We really should have put that together, and appreciate that you picked up the slack for us.

And that's it for today's episode of Debt Ceiling Theater. (Z)

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