Congress doesn't have very much time to make a debt ceiling-averting deal before the Treasury's approximate default deadline on Thursday. But even if the Senate leadership starts voting on a compromise tomorrow, any individual Senator [insert significant glances in Senator Ted Cruz's direction here], could easily force Congress to miss the deadline by slowing down the Senate with procedural moves. That's even if Senate Democrats wrangle up enough votes to bypass a filibuster attempt.
The potential stalls come from the Senate's own rules. Once the Senate reaches a deal on the debt ceiling, Reid is expected to bring up the trimmings of the deal as an amendment to an existing bill to raise the debt ceiling. That bill is currently on hold, and pending a cloture vote, could proceed quickly to the next stop: 30 hours of debate. But Senate leadership would likely want to waive that debate period, which required unanimous consent from the Senate. If Cruz, or any other Senator wants to, he could deny that consent, and force the Senate into 30 hours of extra time on the deal. In fact, any Senator could do this twice: once on the amendment containing the deal, and once on the entire bill. Businessweek's Joshua Green laid out this scenario as a hypothetical timeline earlier on Monday, showing that Cruz could easily stretch out the Senate through Friday on the bill, before it even goes to the Republican-controlled House for consideration. And Green's timeline assumed the best-case-scenario for the Senate's dealmaking, theorizing that Reid could bring up the amendment by 5 p.m. on Monday. It's now after 5 p.m., however, and the Senate leadership hasn't yet reached a deal, though they're reportedly close. The Senate GOP won't even meet until Tuesday to look at whatever ends up on the table, as some members of Congress are still flying into town.
So far, Cruz has been noncommittal on whether he'll try to delay an Obamacare-free deal, telling the Hill that he and his cohort would "need to see what the details are first." So Ted Cruz hasn't made any promises to stop a deal he doesn't like in its tracks. The senator, despite widespread polling to the contrary, believes that his tactics are earning the backing of most Americans. If Ted Cruz thinks it's up to Ted Cruz to stop a compromise that doesn't stop Obamacare on behalf of America, he could definitely at least delay it past the "doomsday" congressional leadership are furiously negotiating to try and avoid. Senator Rand Paul, meanwhile, has said that he has no plans to delay a vote on any potential Senate deal this week.
There is, however, some possibility flexibility here if Congress doesn't pass a deal until, say, the weekend. As the Atlantic Wire explained earlier today, Thursday's Treasury deadline is more of an estimate than a guarantee of an instant default. It's the day we're most likely to stop being able to pay our bills. But after Thursday, the Treasury can no longer guarantee that we'll be able to do so in the future — we just don't know when the disastrous default becomes reality until it happens. That doesn't mean Congress can take a breather here by any means: even optimistic estimates don't give Congress that much more time to work out its problems — Goldman Sachs, for instance, has pegged November 1 as the default date.