December 6, 2012

J. Scott Applewhite, AP

Mitch McConnell, in an effort to bluff Democrats, today demanded a straight up or down vote on a measure that would give the President the authority to raise the debt ceiling. According to Huffington Post’s Michael McAuliff, the GOP calculation was that some Dems would vote against it, proving Dem disunity on the debt ceiling.

But then the maneuver backfired, forcing McConnell to filibuster the proposal he’d previously wanted subjected to a straight vote:

The minority leader apparently did not think Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would take him up on his offer, which would have allowed McConnell to portray President Barack Obama’s desire for such authority as something even Democrats opposed.

Reid objected at first, but told McConnell he thought it might be a good idea. After Senate staff reviewed the proposal, Reid came back to the floor and proposed a straight up-or-down vote on the idea.

McConnell was forced to say no.

“What we’re talking about here is a perpetual debt ceiling grant, in effect, to the president, ” McConnell said. “Matters of this level of controversy always require 60 votes.”

It’s unclear to me whether the proposal voted on was the “McConnell provision,” which as noted earlier today would effectively transfer authority over the debt ceiling to the president, or a similar proposal. But the bottom line is that Republicans thought Dems would not be united behind the idea of giving the president more control over the debt ceiling.

But Dems turned out to be united enough to agree to a straight up or down vote. Which forced McConnell to filibuster it, to prevent it from passing the Senate.

 This is a key development, because it’s the first major test we’ve seen of whether Dems will remain united behind the idea that Congress should mostly relinquish control over the debt ceiling to the president. Dems passed this test.

This isn’t to say that Dems will continue to remain unified on the debt ceiling. Things could soon get a lot more difficult, particularly if Republicans make good on their vow to use the debt ceiling to leverage entitlement cuts next year, and Obama makes good on his refusal to countenance the debt ceiling having any role in the talks. It remains to be seen how unified Dems will remain behind Obama at that point. But with even GOP-aligned interests in the business community coming out against a rerun of the 2011 debacle, today’s events may bode well for Dems holding the line.

One more time: It’s not 2011 anymore.

 

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.