McConnell Solves Debt Ceiling Standoff?

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has proposed a simple deal to break the impasse on the debt ceiling: Cede power to raise the ceiling to the president, with a few minor caveats.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has proposed a simple deal to break the impasse on the debt ceiling: Cede power to raise the ceiling to the president, with a few minor caveats.

Politico (“Senate GOP mulls new debt strategy“):

Desperate to get out of the political box they helped to create, Senate Republicans are actively pursuing a new plan under which the debt ceiling would grow in three increments over the remainder of this Congress unless lawmakers approve a veto-proof resolution of disapproval.

In effect lawmakers would be surrendering the very power of approval that the GOP has used to force the debt crisis now. But by taking the disapproval route, Republicans can shift the onus more onto the White House and Democrats since a two-thirds majority will be needed to stop any increase that President Barack Obama requests.

“It gives the president 100 percent of the responsibility for increasing the debt limit if he chooses not to have any spending reductions,” Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Republican Conference chairman, told reporters Tuesday.

Kevin Drum helpfully simplifies:

  1. Next month Obama would receive approval to raise the debt ceiling $700 billion.
  2. A “resolution of disapproval” would then be taken up by Congress on an expedited basis (i.e., no filibusters allowed).
  3. If the resolution passes, Obama can veto it.
  4. If he vetoes it, it requires a two-thirds vote of both houses to override.
  5. If there’s no override, the debt limit is increased, but Obama would be required to lay out a “hypothetical” set of budget cuts totalling $700 billion.
  6. This would be repeated (in $900 billion increments) in the fall of 2011 and summer of 2012.

TPM’s Brian Beutler (“The Big Blink? McConnell Proposes Giving Obama Authority To Raise Debt Limit Alone“) is stoked:

The legislation would not give Obama unilateral authority to cut spending or reduce deficits. And as such, it represents a big policy cave by Republicans, who’ve long insisted that they would not raise the debt limit without enacting entitlement cuts long-sought by the conservative movement on a bipartisan basis. But, if Dems buy into this option, it will keep the potent debt issue alive, and central to politics, for much of this election season.

Red State’s Erick Erickson (“Mitch McConnell Just Proposed the ‘Pontius Pilate Pass the Buck Act of 2011’” — apparently softened from “It Is Time to BurnMitch McConnnel in Effigy He Goes Pontius Pilate on the Debt Ceiling“) is pissed:

Mitch McConnell is right now talking about making a historic capitulation. So fearful of being blamed for a default, McConnell is proposing a compromise that lets Barack Obama raise the debt ceiling without making any spending cuts at all.

Consider sending McConnell a weasel as testament to his treachery. His address is [redacted by OTB] and the phone number is [redacted by OTB].

McConnell’s idea is to make the debt ceiling automatic unless Congress, by a 2/3 vote blocks the increase. Oh yes, he put a salve on it by dressing it up in tough talk that, to quote the Wall Street Journal, “[a] ‘eal solution’ to U.S. fiscal problems isn’t possible as long as President Barack Obama remains in office.” So since no “real solution” is possible, McConnell proposes to go Pontius Pilate and wash his hands of spending, blaming Obama while doing nothing himself.

But Drum is baffled:

WTF? This is possibly the most juvenile, most buck passing, most transparently mendacious proposal I can recall from any party leader in recent memory. The bright idea here is to force Democrats to repeatedly vote to raise the debt ceiling during campaign season, and to repeatedly force Obama to lay out enormous budget cuts that have no purpose except to piss off interest groups. The whole thing is so patently, ridiculously political that it’s breathtaking. It ought to be named the “Gratuitous Embarrassment of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party Act of 2011.”

Does McConnell really think that he’s being clever here? That his purpose isn’t plain to everyone?

Asked and answered!

I’m actually in Drum’s corner in this one. I think playing fire with the national credit rating is irresponsible but I’m willing to abide a certain amount of brinksmanship as the price of hardball politics in a polarized society. But I’m having a hard time seeing what principled position is being advanced by this stunt.

If the Republican leadership understands that the debt ceiling simply has to be raised–which, of course, it must–then they should negotiate to get the best deal possible and then sell it to their base. If they think Obama demanded too much entitlement spending, then make the case to the public and try to get one of their own elected next November.

Instead, they’re afraid of their own base–which they’ve helped rile up with absurd rhetoric–and being compared to Pontius Pilate by the likes of Erick Erickson. McConnell is left trying to score silly political points for no advancement of the Republican agenda.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. WR says:

    Of course, there has never been a crisis here, and the debt ceiling itself has never required any great deal to raise. The only reason we’ve been rushing towards the cliff is simply because the Republicans decided to play games with a vote they’ve taken time and time and time again.

  2. James Joyner says:

    @WR: But they’re in a real box, largely of their own creation. They’ve run on reducing the debt, making it damned hard to justify voting for more of it.

  3. WR says:

    @James Joyner: But as you know, raising the debt ceiling isn’t actually the same as voting for more debt. That was taken several months ago, when these same fiscal conservatives voted for the budget they now say is terrible. They voted for the spending — now they just don’t want to pay the bill. Which, as every sane person knows, will cause the debt to skyrocket, because if we default our interest rates are going to shoot up.

    Sorry, no sympathy. They are acting like children. Maybe that’s appropriate for some of these new Tea Party members, as they seem as honestly stupid as you can get and still be able to breathe. But Boehner, McConnell and Cantor are anything but dumb. Hell doesn’t have enough circles for them.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    Sorry, no sympathy. They are acting like children. Maybe that’s appropriate for some of these new Tea Party members, as they seem as honestly stupid as you can get and still be able to breathe. But Boehner, McConnell and Cantor are anything but dumb. Hell doesn’t have enough circles for them.

    No improvement possible on this paragraph.

    That’s your party, James: the stupid and the dishonest.

  5. lunaticllama says:

    @WR: I think that Boehner was ready to make the deal last week, but then conservative members of his caucus said that it would not fly. What’s been odd is how the dynamic sometime last week switched to where Obama had the upper hand by holding the deal hostage to revenue increases of some form, which are anathema to Republican rank-and-file. If this is the outcome, this is a huge fail for Republicans.

    Republicans have based their politics on reduction in the size of government for the past three decades on reducing the size of government, but have never taken the tough votes to actually reduce the size of government substantially (usually they just vote to defund things that help Democratic constituencies.) So then at the point of maximum leverage with a willing Democratic president, they don’t pull the trigger on big cuts because they have to compromise a little? Really? It’s all very weird.

  6. Hey Norm says:

    @ James…
    You’re having a hard time seeing a principled position it’s because there is none.
    You are seeing the end result of decades of preaching something you do not actually believe. Obama called them on their BS and now they have, or appear to have, no way out.
    This morning I called “check” after Obamas quote on the SS checks not going out.
    I think Turtle-Face just surrendered his King. Check and mate.

  7. Liberty60 says:

    I remember hearing, waaay back in the 70’s when I was still a young engergetic Reagan fan, that the conservative coalition held mutually incompatible views, initiated by Barry Goldwater-

    One, hawkish defense poisture, demanding incredibly large government spending and power and ;
    two, fiscal conservatism demanding small government with low spending.

    I laughed it off then, but today we are seeing the two trains collide headon at full steam.

  8. An Interested Party says:

    But I’m having a hard time seeing what principled position is being advanced by this stunt.

    Hardly surprising, as “principled” and “Mitch McConnell” don’t exactly go together….

    Instead, they’re afraid of their own base…

    *DING*DING*DING*DING* Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner! I seem to recall some wise phrase form the past, something about a tiger and a tail…

    They’ve run on reducing the debt, making it damned hard to justify voting for more of it.

    Well, they’re certainly free to present a detailed plan as to what they would do to reduce the debt…

    It’s all very weird.

    Not if you realize that Republicans are nothing but frauds when it comes to actually reducing the size of the government…

  9. ratufa says:

    One of the questions that was going to arise out of any budget agreement or failure to reach an agreement was who would get the blame, since many people are going to be unhappy no matter what the outcome. I admit I never anticipated McConnell’s plan to avoid the deal-making stage entirely and move directly to the finger-pointing endgame, with all fingers pointing to Obama.

  10. Hey Norm says:

    My highest hope is that this signals the end of this Kabuki Theater, and Washington can get on to the serious work of governing. I’m probably naive.

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I’m probably naive.

    I’m sorry Norm, but you are. Unfortunately, I still think that some day they will all grow up… which makes me as naive as Eric Cantor.

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    And for the record, if Mitch McConnell solves the debt crises….

    we are tr*ly f*cked.

  13. Hey Norm says:

    Anyone else think Wall Street told the leadership of the so-called republicans to quit f’ing around?

  14. PJ says:

    @Hey Norm:

    Anyone else think Wall Street told the leadership of the so-called republicans to quit f’ing around?

    And then the republican leadership told the rest of the republican congress to stop f’ing around, and they then in return told the leadership to go **** themselves.

  15. Hey Norm says:

    @ PJ…
    We’ll see.
    Sanity only requires moderates from both parties. Perhaps Wall Street can influence some moderates to finally act as moderates
    Like I said…We’ll see.

  16. Eric Florack says:

    So, McConnel capitulated?
    He needs replacing with someone in possession of a spine.

  17. Liberty60 says:

    @Eric Florack:

    So like, have you mailed in your weasel yet?

  18. anjin-san says:

    He needs replacing with someone in possession of a spine.

    Maybe they can find someone who talks big on a blog. Hell, that’s all it takes, right?

  19. anjin-san says:

    Hey bit, you drive a truck right? When the evil government stops maintaining roads for lack of money, and they are no longer navigable, how are you going to make a living?

  20. JohnMcC says:

    McConnell’s plan has the same chance of passing the House that a snowball has passing thru hell.

  21. ponce says:

    McConnell’s plan has the same chance of passing the House that a snowball has passing thru hell.

    Why?

    It would only take a few courageous Republicans to join the Democrats to pass this bill.

  22. Jim Treacher says:

    If the Republican leadership understands that the debt ceiling simply has to be raised–which, of course, it must

    Of course! Yes, yes, of course.

  23. Pug says:

    If the Repubicans really were offered 83% spending cuts and 17% tax increases on a $4 trillion deficit deal and they didn’t take it, they are even crazier than most of us thought.

    But then quite a few of them, like Michele Bachmann, really seem to believe the US defaulting on its obligations would be a good thing. There may be no stopping this crazy train.

  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    It would only take a few courageous Republicans to join the Democrats to pass this bill.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAhaaahaaahehheh, wheeze, wheeze…..URRRPPP!!! I think I’m having a heart attack! Buuuurrrrrrp! Nope, just gas.

    Seriously Ponce, are you trying to kill me?

  25. sam says:

    @Pug:

    If the Repubicans really were offered 83% spending cuts and 17% tax increases on a $4 trillion deficit deal and they didn’t take it, they are even crazier than most of us thought.

    Exactly. Given that the House Republicans issued a report showing that historically an 85-15% ratio of spending cuts to tax increases had been efficacious. See, The Economist, Shame on them–The Republicans are playing a cynical political game with hugely high economic stakes:

    [T]he closer you look, the more unprincipled the Republicans look. Earlier this year House Republicans produced a report noting that an 85%-15% split between spending cuts and tax rises was the average for successful fiscal consolidations, according to historical evidence. The White House is offering an 83%-17% split (hardly a huge distance) and a promise that none of the revenue increase will come from higher marginal rates, only from eliminating loopholes. If the Republicans were real tax reformers, they would seize this offer.

    Batshit crazy SOBs.

  26. Rob in CT says:

    I don’t even know what to say at this point.

  27. ratufa says:

    @ponce:

    It would only take a few courageous Republicans to join the Democrats to pass this bill.

    Why do you think the Democrats should pass this proposal? As Kevin Drum pointed out, the result would be that Obama would raise the debt ceiling each time and Republicans would vote as a bloc for the disapproval resolution, but would never have enough votes to override a veto. They would then spend the time until the next vote complaining about Obama’s and the Democrats’ big spending ways. When Obama submits the list of spending cuts, Republicans would then cherry-pick the most politically-sensitive cuts and spend their time complaining about how Obama wants to cut Defense or destroy Medicare or whatever. And, of course, some number of Democrats would join in, should Obama propose any cuts that push their buttons.

    A major reason for having Republicans and Democrats work together (or fight together) to come up with a budget agreement is to provide political cover for both parties, because major spending cuts, changes to entitlement programs and raising taxes (or raising fees or closing tax loopholes) are unpopular with many voters. The political fallout from passage of the ACA (aka ObamaCare) is an example of what happens when you don’t have such cover.

    So, McConnell’s proposal doesn’t really “solve” the standoff in any meaningful way. It’s just an attempt to punt on having an agreement in a way that helps the Republicans position themselves for the 2012 elections. This isn’t something that Obama and the Democrats should rush to agree to.

  28. Murray says:

    I agree at 99% with Drum.

    The proposal is indeed one of the most flabbergasting pieces of political nonsense I’ve ever seen. The sad part however is that McConnell knows his electorate isn’t paying attention and therefore the maneuver isn’t transparent to them.

  29. Tlaloc says:

    That’s your party, James: the stupid and the dishonest.

    I don’t think that’s quite fair, Joyner’s been damn reasonable in general and has actively criticized the idiocy of the modern republican party frequently and vigorously.

  30. Wayne says:

    @WR
    I bet you were one of them when there was a threat that of a government shutdown that said that the GOP need to compromise, need to address it later in debt ceiling debate, and all other lame reason why the GOP should vote for the budget back then.

    Now they need to just go ahead a vote to raise the debt ceiling right? Then when the next budget come around and another threat of government shutdown looms large, I sure you and many others will demand the GOP cave once again to avoid a government shutdown.

    Continually kicking the can down the road.

    I didn’t vote for my representatives to kick the can down the road, spending their time getting reelected or to play how we can make the other side look bad. I voted for them to solve the damn problems. That is the problem with inside the Beltway types and political party leadership. They are only concern about getting an R or D behind the reps names not about solving problems.

  31. Wayne says:

    Anyone who votes “present” needs to go. I don’t care if it is McConnell or Obama. If they don’t want to lead then get out of the way and let someone else lead.

  32. WR says:

    @Wayne: Failing to raise the debt ceiling isn’t solving the problem, it’s creating vastly more of them. Because if the US defaults, instead of paying essentially zero interest on the debt, we’ll be paying at much higher levels, which will cause the deficit and debt to skyrocket. Surely, anyone who claims to care about our debt levels can understand this. Right, Wayne?

    If you want your representatives to fix the problem, there’s an easy place for them to start — with the budget. You see, in the budget they decide how much money to spend. The debt limit is only about actually paying the bill for spending they’ve already incurred.

    See, it’s the difference between choosing not to buy a new car when you’re unemployed and choosing to buy that new car but refusing to make the payments.

    There is no rational reason for failing to raise the debt ceiling. The Tea Partiers who are screaming for default are acting out of ignorance and emotion. Because there is no good that can come out of it — it won’t lower our debt or deficit — and plenty of harm.

    So please explain to me, Wayne, how default will solve any problems?

  33. sam says:

    @WR:

    “So please explain to me, Wayne, how default will solve any problems?”

    It won’t, but it sure will feel good…for about 24 hours.

  34. David M says:

    Yes, defaulting is probably a guaranteed way to increase the deficit by raising our interest payments. This shouldn’t please anyone, as it’s the least useful spending increase ever and was completely avoidable.

  35. I don’t think anyone is seriously suggestion a default, so why does it keep coming up?

    The problem with kicking the can down the road is eventually you run out of road. Unfortunately, it has become such a habit that those responsible haven’t even lifted their gaze to see the “End of Road” sign just ahead because the only solution their boxed in thinking permits is kicking the can.

  36. WR says:

    @charles austin: The Tea Party Republicans in Congress are specifically calling for a default.

    Oh, and look, here’s Michelle Bachmann riding the crazy train to the rescue:

    At the same time, one of the Republican party’s presidential hopefuls, Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, was drawing a hard line against voting to raise the debt ceiling and disputing the idea that the government’s credit standing would be jeopardized by the impasse.

    “I’m a ‘no’ on raising the debt ceiling right now because I have been here long enough that I have seen a lot of smoke and mirrors in the time I have been here,” Ms. Bachman said.

  37. wr, not raising the debt ceiling and calling for a default are not the same thing. Please try to understand. It will make conversing a lot easier, or you just swallow Obama’s agitprop.

  38. wr, and since you choose not to adress the rest of the comment is it safe to put you in the kick the can down the road camp because debt really doesn’t matter?

  39. WR says:

    @charles austin: If the debt ceiling isn’t raised, the government defaults or 44% of the government shuts down immediately. There’s nothing else to talk about.

    As for “kicking the can down the road,” I’m in favor of raising taxes immediately.

  40. Eric Florack says:

    I did mean exactly what I said, and every word of it.Look, first of all, the leadership is saying the thing will not pass the house as such, so it’s all fluff anyway.And, yes, I’m sure McConnell thinks he’s doing the right thing for the party. He’s trying to get Obama to politically hang himself between now and the next election, by (a) giving him enough rope and (b) making sure the rope is left in a very public spot, so that everyone knows whose fault our fiscal problems are. It’s a well crafted political plan and I’ll tell you that during the Carter years, when our situation was far less dire, it would have worked.Trouble is, our situation is far more problematic than Carter ever created, and the mood of the country just now is not for political gamesmanship, but rather immediate results.

    The electorate couldn’t give a DAMN about the party. They’re more interested in the country. The polling is showing the American people who are paying attention are against raising the debt ceiling at all.

    The obvious point here though is that the American people have already been won over by the facts. Yet, McConnell is still playing politics, trying to show people who is at fault for our situation. He’s apparently unwilling to believe in the conservative position enough to simply stand up for it. He chickens out and goes to the usual political gamesmanship. It’s un-needed and in fact counter productive. And to boot, he lets Obama, Pelosi, Reid, and Schumer up off the ropes. I say again: Time for McConnell to get the axe.

  41. Eric Florack says:

    Hey bit, you drive a truck right? When the evil government stops maintaining roads for lack of money, and they are no longer navigable, how are you going to make a living?

    I note you fail to ask the question of why we’re out of money. Has nothing to do with what government is supposed to be doing. It has everything to do with all the spending where the government has no business at all.

  42. An Interested Party says:

    It has everything to do with all the spending where the government has no business at all.

    Oh? Like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, eh?

  43. Eric Florack says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Among them, yes.

  44. An Interested Party says:

    @Eric Florack: Oh, good luck convincing even a healthy minority, much less a majority, of the American people to think as you do…no wonder you appear so frustrated…

  45. Eric Florack says:

    @An Interested Party:
    When you rob peter to pay paul you can count on support from Paul?

    But look closely at the issues you point up: Why do such programs exist? Because of the expense, right? But look closer at what happened to medical costs every time the government’s role in medicine expanded. We keep hearing from pols about ow government needs to do something about the high costs of medicine, yet everything they do raises the costs.

    Eliminating such programs might not be all that hard an argument to make, after all, given rational people.

  46. An Interested Party says:

    When you rob peter to pay paul you can count on support from Paul?

    But “robbing Peter to pay Paul”, as you call it, is an integral part of government and certainly something that most people would not give up easily…to extend your argument, why should someone who doesn’t drive have to pay for highways you use? Why should someone who has no children have to pay for schools that your kids go to? Why should someone who does not support wars of choice have to help pay for them? The arguments of you and your ilk fall on deaf ears, for the most part…as I told you before, Calvin Coolidge is gone and isn’t ever going to come back…

    Why do such programs exist?

    To provide a safety net for the elderly and the poor…now, I’m sure you could find plenty of people who think like you that this task should not be the role of the federal government, but good luck finding a large number of people who will agree with you and even more, good luck finding a majority of politicians who agree with you…

    But look closer at what happened to medical costs every time the government’s role in medicine expanded.

    Evidence, please…

  47. Tlaloc says:

    wr, not raising the debt ceiling and calling for a default are not the same thing.

    Yes they are. The credit agencies have made it explicitly clear that a “technical default” will still be treated as a default incurring all the penalties thereof. Anyone calling for the debt limit not to be raised is EXACTLY calling for a default.

  48. Eric Florack says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Evidence, please…

    http://freedomkeys.com/medicare.htm

    To provide a safety net for the elderly and the poor…

    That was already there. Note, at the same link:

    In 1965, ”(m)ost of the elderly already had health insurance. The poor were treated at city, county and charity hospitals … Emergency Room treatment, regardless of insurance, had been enacted under Eisenhower. Medical care was available to only slightly fewer people than now.

  49. An Interested Party says:

    Hmm…while looking into the issue, I found this, which seems quite plausible and says nothing about an expanded government role driving up health care costs…on the contrary, the problem appears to be that the government here doesn’t do what governments in other countries do to drive down costs…funny how costs are lower in other countries where the government plays a much larger role in health care…

  50. James Joyner says:

    @An Interested Party: I don’t think there’s much dispute that a single payer system is cheaper and more efficient. Personally, I’d probably prefer some basic centralized system with an option for private augmentation (ala France and Germany) to our own hodgepodge of public and private.

  51. An Interested Party says:

    I don’t think there’s much dispute that a single payer system is cheaper and more efficient.

    I would agree, but, unfortunately, many of your fellow conservatives stand in the way of that, as they pull out the “SOCIALIST!!!!” card whenever the discussion goes in that direction…and, of course, health insurance companies, among other private business interests, probably wouldn’t like going down that path at all…

  52. anjin-san says:

    Why do the websites bithead links to always look like they were designed & developed by a 12 year old?