Joe Biden Needs Fastest Reconciliation Bill in History to Lift Debt Ceiling, Avoid Default

President Joe Biden and Democrats will have to pass the fastest reconciliation bill in U.S. history if they choose to use that method to raise the debt ceiling before the nation potentially defaults on its debts.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that her department may not be able to fulfill its financial commitments after October 18 if Congress does not raise the debt limit by that time.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said Democrats should raise the debt ceiling without Republican support using the budget reconciliation process. But with just 12 days to go until Yellen's estimated date for a debt default, the stakes couldn't be higher.

Congress passed the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act in just 13 days in 2010. That bill made amendments to the Affordable Care Act and was the shortest period for a reconciliation measure.

In what could be viewed as an encouraging sign, Democrats earlier this year passed a reconciliation bill, the American Rescue Plan, in 15 days.

The American Rescue Plan was first introduced in the House of Representatives by Democrat John Yarmuth of Kentucky on February 24 and signed into law by Biden on March 11.

In 1990, Congress took 21 days to pass the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. That bill was introduced in the House on October 15, 1990 and signed into law on November 5, 1990.

The reconciliation process was introduced by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 and first used in 1980. It allows the Senate to pass budget measures with a majority, without relying on support from the minority and thus overcome the filibuster. Bills must be passed by the House and Senate before reaching the president's desk.

Raising the debt ceiling through reconciliation is possible, particularly if the bill contains only a single item. However, no measure to raise the debt ceiling has been introduced in the House and any such measure could prove controversial.

Democrats are currently embroiled in an internal fight over two bills—a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package and a $3.5 trillion bill that would significantly expand the social safety net.

The larger bill is meant to be passed through reconciliation and introducing a rise in the debt ceiling would further complicate matters for the Democrats. There are also restrictions on how often the budget reconciliation process can be used.

The Senate parliamentarian ruled in April that only two reconciliation bills can be passed in 2021, one for the fiscal year 2021 and another for 2022.

However, the parliamentarian also said the Senate may introduce a budget resolution that contains "budget reconciliation instructions," according to a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

This would have the effect of a third reconciliation bill, but Democrats may not wish to raise the debt ceiling through reconciliation if it means potentially sacrificing other policy goals.

Schumer and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) both rejected using reconciliation to raise the debt limit in late September. Durbin said it would take three to four weeks— time Congress does not have.

However, congressional Democrats may have no choice but to act and the clock is against them. It is still possible for McConnell to agree to raise the debt ceiling but with less than two weeks until a potential U.S. government debt default, waiting for Republican support could be a major risk.

The U.S. has never before defaulted on its debts and doing so would likely throw the country into a recession and spark a global economic downturn.

Joe Biden Pictured with Nancy Pelosi
President Joe Biden walks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as he arrives to meet with House Democrats at the U.S. Capitol on October 01, 2021 in Washington, DC. Democrats will have to pass a reconciliation bill in record time if they choose to raise the debt ceiling using that method. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images