December 5, 2012

(Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

We, the American people, owe Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a debt of gratitude (no pun intended). During the debt-ceiling scariness last year, the Kentucky Republican devised a way for the limit on the nation’s borrowing to be raised by the president and signed off on by Congress. It was an ingenious two-step that pulled us from economic oblivion and safeguarded the full faith and credit of the United States. With another fight over the debt ceiling looming, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner wants to make the “McConnell Provision” permanent, a move I wholeheartedly support.

Today, in a blog post on the Treasury website, Jenni LeCompte gets at why the “McConnell Provision” is essential in a world where Congress has shown a fondness for playing Russian Roulette with a fully loaded gun. “Extension of the McConnell Provision would lift the periodic threat of default from the U.S. economy and remove politics from future debt limit debates,” she notes, “while preserving Congress’ essential role in spending, revenue and borrowing decisions.”

As the chart shows, once the Treasury comes within $100 billion of reaching its debt limit, the president sends a certification letter to Congress that confirms further borrowing authority is needed. If Congress disapproves it must pass a Joint Resolution of disapproval. But if Congress does pass a Joint Resolution of disapproval, the president can veto it. Once the measure goes back to the House and Senate, each chamber must override the veto by a two-thirds majority vote. If the disapproval measure is not enacted within 15 days the limit is raised to the level the president says is needed to meet the nation’s existing financial obligations.

The politics of all this are oh so rich. By calling it the “McConnell Provision,” Geithner is going one step further than he did on “Meet The Press” when he talked about the idea. “[T]he virtue of that mechanism proposed by Sen. McConnell, a man of impeccable conservative credentials, is to make sure that the country is not left at risk of periodic threats of default,” Geithner said. “It’s a very good idea. It was a Republican idea. And we’re suggesting they extend it.”

Geithner was laying it on real thick. But it is a very good idea. And, now, by naming his proposal after McConnell, Geithner is laying the whole thing around the Kentucky Republican’s neck. The Minority Leader reportedly laughed out loud when he heard about the proposal. I wonder if he’s laughing now.

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.