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WASHINGTON: US Senate Democrats planned a third attempt on Wednesday to get Republicans to vote to raise the federal government’s borrowing authority and head off a catastrophic default, as one member warned they were “on the precipice now of the cliff.”

After a months-long standoff in which Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell repeatedly said his party would not vote to lift or extend the $28.4 trillion debt limit, President Joe Biden on Tuesday suggested he was open to changing the Senate’s filibuster rule to bypass the roadblock.

Hours before the planned vote, McConnell on Wednesday again said he thought Democrats should use the Senate’s reconciliation process to raise the debt ceiling without Republican votes.

With less than two weeks to go before the Treasury Department expects to run out of ways to meet the government’s expenses around Oct. 18, Democrats are looking at all their options.

“We’re on the precipice now of the cliff, and as you know, any day now, you could have a downgrade in our credit rating, our national credit rating,” said Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen. “And that will cost hundreds of billions of dollars, trillions over time. So time is of the essence and that’s why we need to act.”

McConnell has been pushing Democrats to use reconciliation, as it did earlier this year to pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package and plans to use again to pass a multi-trillion-dollar bill to bolster the social safety net and fight climate change.

Democrats have refused, saying Republicans should vote to raise the limit, since the debt includes about $8 trillion in spending approved during Republican Donald Trump’s presidency.

MCCONNELL SEES ‘MANUFACTURED DRAMA’

While reconciliation can be a long process, sometimes involving all-night “vote-a-rama” sessions, McConnell said it could be sped up.

“There would be a potential for time agreements to wrap it up well before any danger,” he said. “But the Democratic leaders wanted ... to turn their failure into everybody else’s crisis, play at risky games with our economy using manufactured drama.”

Biden said on Tuesday that it was “real possibility” that Democrats instead might use their current razor-thin majority to drop the Senate’s filibuster rule, which requires 60 of the chamber’s 100 members to agree to pass most legislation.

Biden, himself a former Senator, had previously opposed changes to the filibuster, which is meant to help maintain government stability through election cycles.

If Democrats follow through, they could easily suspend the debt ceiling before Oct. 18. That would head off the risk of a crippling default and allow them to focus on passing two mammoth spending bills that make up the bulk of Biden’s domestic agenda.

In an effort to underline the severe economic risks of a default, Biden will meet on Wednesday with a group of CEOs of major corporations including JPMorgan Chase & Co, Intel Corp and Nasdaq Inc.

Many Democrats have long argued that the Senate should dump the filibuster entirely, saying it prevents progress on climate change, voting rights and other priorities. The chamber already allows federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, to win approval on a straight majority vote.

Centrist Democratic senators including Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have said repeatedly they are not willing to dump the filibuster, which would leave the party short of the votes needed to change the rule. Neither attended a Wednesday morning meeting of Democrats.

Democratic Senators John Hickenlooper and Ron Wyden on Tuesday said they were open to dropping the filibuster requirement for the debt-limit vote. Manchin declined to comment when asked about it prior to Biden’s remarks.

The Senate was due to hold a Wednesday afternoon procedural vote that would allow them to begin debating a bill that would suspend the debt limit until December 2022, after elections that will determine control of Congress for the next two years. That passed the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives last week but Republicans have stalled it in the Senate with the filibuster.

Without a quick resolution, some government services might be suspended, such as delivering Social Security benefit checks.

The Bipartisan Policy Center on Wednesday issued forecasts on when some federal payments could be postponed as a result of the standoff. Unemployment insurance payments due Oct. 20 could be delayed five days, federal salaries for civilian employees due Oct. 29 could be pushed back to Nov. 9 and Medicare payments to doctors could be delayed from Nov. 1 to Nov. 19, it said.

Even a close call would likely be damaging. A 2011 debt ceiling dispute, which Congress resolved two days before the borrowing limit was due to be reached, caused stocks to tumble and prompted a first-ever credit downgrade for US debt.

Moody’s Investors Service said on Tuesday it expects Washington will raise the debt limit by reconciliation.

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