February 27, 2013
President Obama
President Obama (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Politico story today “Senate GOP ponders ceding power to President Obama” has given me a simultaneous case of deja vu and whiplash. Deja vu, because the Senate Republican plan to deal with sequester sounds a lot like the one used to solve the 2011 debt-ceiling debacle. Whiplash, because when President Obama proposed making that plan permanent, congressional Republicans balked big-time because they said it gave the president too much power.

“Under the Republican plan, Obama would be required to offer a sequester alternative by March 8,” Politico reports. “Congress would have until March 22 to pass a resolution of disapproval, which would done by a simple majority vote. If that resolution is signed by the president, the original sequestration order would be restored. But the process is subject to a veto, requiring two-thirds to prevail and overrule whatever plan the president comes up with.”

So, let me get this straight: Republicans didn’t want the president to raise the debt ceiling on his own because it would usurp their constitutional power of the purse, but they would like him to do sequester cuts on his own? Color me confused.

This latest Republican maneuver is the brainchild of Sens. Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Jim Inhofe (Okla.), and it is a carbon copy of the McConnell Provision. Replace “sequester” with “debt ceiling,” and you have the exact plan Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) devised to help save the full faith and credit of the United States in 2011.

When default was threatened again last year, then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner proposed making the McConnell Provision permanent. Let the president raise the debt ceiling unilaterally, with that power being checked by a resolution of disapproval from Congress. A presidential veto could be overturned with a two-thirds-majority vote. See? Same thing. But Republicans were decidedly down on the idea.

“That would give President Obama, and every future president, authority to spend infinite sums of borrowed money,” Speaker Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel told Roll Call at the time. “The American people wouldn’t stand for it, and neither would members of Congress in either political party.” Meanwhile, a McConnell spokesman slammed the McConnell Provision as “a power grab that has no support here.”

That was then. This is now.

Republicans are in a serious jam over the sequester, and they’d love nothing more than to have Obama grab the power in this instance and reap the blame for the cuts he’d have to make under their plan. But not all GOPers are in favor of this unorthodox idea.

Citing Congress’s “constitutional responsibility” to appropriate, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)  blasted the Toomey-Inhofe proposal yesterday. “Congress has a constitutional responsibility to authorize and appropriate for the nation’s security,” he said. “[W]hy give that responsibility over the president of the United States — and that renders us not just ineffective but irrelevant.”

Ineffective and irrelevant — that pretty much sums up the view of Washington these days.

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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.