As you’ve probably heard, Senator Mitch McConnell surprised the political world today by unveiling a new proposal under which Obama can raise the debt ceiling himself — a seeming escape hatch from the political trap Republicans seemed to be caught in on the issue. The Post’s Jennifer Rubin had the details first:
It works like this: The plan “would give the President the ability to request smaller increases in the debt ceiling — coupled with proposed spending cuts of at least $2.5 trillion over the next year. It would provide for up to three separate sets of votes on a resolution disapproving of the increase — one later this month, the second in the fall of 2011 and the third in the summer of 2012.
The plan is modeled on the 1996 Congressional Review Act, which established expedited procedures by which Congress may disapprove agencies’ rules by enacting a joint resolution of disapproval.” The first set of votes would avoid the current default danger and ask the president for a $700 billion increase in the debt ceiling; two subsequent requests would be for $900 billion increases.
Where is the House GOP leadership on this? Michael Steel, a spokesman for John Boehner, emails:
“The Speaker shares the Leader’s frustration. Republicans are unified in our commitment to ensuring that the debt limit is not used as leverage to saddle small businesses with increased taxes that destroy jobs.”
Unless I’m missing something, this is not an endorsement of McConnell’s proposal. It’s just an endorsement of the sentiment driving it.
The proposal itself seems like a tacit admission that GOP leaders had concluded that they were left with no endgame in the current standoff but to cave and raise revenues — a course of action that is viewed as completely unacceptable to conservatives. It’s an effort to transfer full ownership of the debt ceiling hike to President Obama, while giving Republicans a way of casting votes against raising it that won’t have any effect or stop it from getting raised.
That’s because, as McConnell said today, you would need two-thirds of both Houses of Congress to block Obama’s requests for the debt ceiling hikes. If the House and Senate did pass resolutions of disapproval, Obama would presumably veto them — requiring two thirds of both Houses to override the vetos.
The proposal would in effect be a way out of the current standoff, which was forcing Republicans to choose between infuriating conservatives with a revenue hike or continuing to flirt with the consequences of default, which was viewed as completely unacceptable by business leaders.
At bottom, McConnell’s proposal is the latest GOP line on the debt ceiling — it's Obama’s problem, not ours — taken to its logical and legislative conclusion.
It’s unclear what the House GOP’s lack of open support for the proposal means in practical terms. And there’s been no reaction yet from the White House. More when I learn it.