Is there a way for House Republicans to pass Mitch McConnell plan to transfer control of the debt ceiling to the President, a proposal conservatives view as a total sell-out? Or, if that proves too unwieldy and they ultimately choose a more simple surrender — a clean debt limit increase — is there a way that could pass the House?
I think Mitch McConnell gave us a hint today when he said: “I bet there won’t be a single Republican vote to raise the debt ceiling at the end of the day.” It sounds counterintuitive, but McConnell may have actually been suggesting here that there is a way of passing an increase through the House.
Bear with me here. Remember, what we’re talking about is a situation in which Republicans have accepted that the limit must be increased, but that they so strongly oppose any potentially available deal that they would prefer allowing the thing to pass, as long as they don’t have to actually vote for it.
As it happens, it’s possible for Republicans to allow the limit to be raised without a single Republican ever voting in favor of it. All they have to do is get out of the way. That’s tricky, but not impossible, in the House, where they currently have a 240-193 edge. If they brought up the bill, what it would take is for arounnd 50 Republicans to either skip the vote entirely or, more likely, vote “present.” The idea is that every single Democrat would vote for increasing the limit, which they presumably would if they had to. Every other Republican could vote “no.”
In the Senate, of course, it’s even easier; with Republicans outnumbered 53-47, all they have to do is to allow a vote without a filibuster. They can’t quite force every Democrat to vote yes, but they can count on all but three of them doing so. No difficult math here; every single Republican could vote against it. In other words, in both these cases, Republicans could allow the debt ceiling to be raised, but it would be all on Democrats to get it done.
Of course, all of that assumes that Republicans prefer surrendering to a deal — and that Democrats are willing to accept a surrender, at the cost of providing all of the votes for the debt limit increase. Yes, it would be a moderately tough vote for some Democrats. But it would be a far preferable outcome for the Democrats, including those in tough reelection fights, compared with any other plausible outcome at this point.