Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) proposed Thursday that the Senate hold an immediate vote on a proposal from President Obama that would essentially give the president the ability to unilaterally raise the nation's debt ceiling.
"Look: the only way we ever cut spending around here is by using the debate over the debt limit to do it. Now the President wants to remove that spur to cut altogether. It gets in the way of his spending plans," McConnell said on the floor of the Senate. "I assure you: it’s not going to happen. The American people want Washington to get spending under control. And the debt limit is the best tool we have to make the President take that demand seriously."
The maneuver is designed to force Democrats to go on record in support of largely removing Congress's role in the sensitive issue of the nation's legal borrowing limit. Republicans believe many Democrats facing tough reelection battles in 2014 would never vote to hand that kind of power to President Obama. Regardless, the measure would be unlikely to draw the Republican support to muster the 60 votes necessary to pass the Senate, meaning Democrats would be forced to take a tough vote on a bill doomed to failure. McConnell often proposes immediate votes on Obama's proposals as a way to attempt to highlight potential Democratic unease. On Wednesday, he proposed he an immediate vote on all of Obama's deficit reduction package.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), who controls the pace of floor action, said he would examine McConnell's proposal but would not immediately move to a vote.
"We’ll be happy to look at the proposal from my friend. But the president doesn’t want to do anything other than what we’ve done before," Reid said.
Obama had proposed the mechanism as part of a deficit reduction package submitted to Congressional leaders by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner last week. Obama suggested that in the future, the president would propose increases in the debt limit in a resolution that Congress could then vote to disapprove. The president could then veto the disapproval resolution -- allowing the debt limit to rise unless Congress could muster the two-thirds vote necessary to override his action.
The mechanism closely mirrors an idea originally crafted by McConnell during debt limit talks last summer and used over the last year to allow the ceiling to rise but shift responsibility for its increase to the White House. But McConnell's original proposal was linked to deal to raise the debt ceiling only for a limited time period and was linked to matching spending cuts.
In his remarks opening legislative business for the day, Reid complained that Republicans appear in disarray over their negotiating strategy to avoid the year-end "fiscal cliff," comparing the GOP to the ill-fated New York Jets.
"We have McConnell," he said. "We have [House Speaker John] Boehner: Who is the quarterback?"