January 14, 2013
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Not sure if you noticed it during his news conference today, but while President Obama was laying down the gauntlet against congressional Republicans on raising the debt ceiling, he also appeared to hand them a way out of a position that will lead to the destruction of the full faith and credit of the United States. It was fleeting, but he gave a shout-out to an idea that was the brainchild of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) during the last debt-ceiling drama.

“If Congress wants to put the responsibility on me to do it, as Mitch McConnell wanted last year,” Obama said in response to a question from NBC’s Chuck Todd, “I’m happy to do that.”


(Department of the Treasury)

During the fiscal cliff negotiations, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner proposed a great idea to get raising the legal limit on the nation’s borrowing off the table for good. The president would have the authority to raise the debt ceiling when Treasury comes within $100 billion of it. Congress would have the power to override that decision through a resolution of disapproval. But the president would be able to veto that resolution. Only a two-thirds majority vote of the House and the Senate could override the veto.

Geithner called this maneuver the “McConnell Provision”  because it was the same mechanism used in 2011 that allowed the debt ceiling to be raised. It also gave Tea Party Republicans an outlet to vote no without wrecking the global economy. As the fiscal cliff negotiations went on in the waning hours of 2012, the “McConnell Provision” disappeared.  But it’s now back on the table. That’s a good thing. Rep. Michael Honda (D-Calif.) even introduced a bill today to make the “McConnell Provision” permanent.

“America cannot afford another debate with this Congress about whether or not they should pay the bills they’ve already racked up,” Obama said. The “McConnell Provision” is the perfect way out for all involved.

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