The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Mitch McConnell offered a debt-ceiling fix in 2011. We should do it now.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) during a news conference on Capitol Hill on Jan. 24. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, represents Oregon in the U.S. Senate. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, represents Virginia in the U.S. Senate.

With the United States on the verge of yet another debt limit crisis, numerous paths to avoid default are being floated, including a trillion-dollar coin, steep cuts to Social Security and Medicare, and challenging the constitutionality of the debt limit altogether.

These proposals ignore a simple solution that, conveniently, already exists: the McConnell plan.

In 2011, during the last major debt limit standoff, circumstances were very similar to those of today: a Republican-controlled House, Democratic-controlled Senate and Democratic president, and the risk of default looming because House Republicans refused to raise the debt limit and pay bills that past Congresses had already incurred. When talks between House Republicans and the president faltered, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) proposed a plan for the debt ceiling.

His proposal, which was later included in the Budget Control Act of 2011, allowed President Barack Obama to increase the debt ceiling, subject to a potential override by Congress. If lawmakers wanted to stop it, Congress could pass a joint resolution of congressional disapproval. Congress still had oversight, but the McConnell plan took the weaponization of the debt ceiling off the table.

While the broader Budget Control Act had numerous flaws, the McConnell plan itself was a good solution then, and it remains a good solution today.

Marc A. Thiessen: Republicans pick a debt-limit fight at their own peril

This month, we introduced the Protect Our Credit Act of 2023, which would make McConnell’s fix permanent.

This legislation would put the power to prevent default in the hands of the president, with Congress acting as a check. In other words — just as McConnell proposed, the bipartisan Congress passed and the Obama administration implemented in 2011 — Congress could only stop the president from raising the debt ceiling if a veto-proof two-thirds majority of lawmakers agreed it was the right thing to do.

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In 2011, McConnell himself said: “It’s extremely important that the country reassure the markets that default is not an option, and reassure Social Security recipients and families of military veterans that default is not an option.”

The Post's View: Here are the ways the debt-limit fight could end. Most are terrible.

McConnell had it right in 2011. A dozen years later, the clock is ticking to protect jobs; interest rates for mortgages, car loans and student loans; and our broader economy from unnecessary and self-inflicted disaster. We would do well to make this proposal permanent. We could finally end this episodic crisis by putting a stop to using the debt ceiling as a tool for political blackmail.