Consensus is forming in Washington around the “last-ditch” debt ceiling plan proposed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to skirt a divided Congress, and allow President Barack Obama to raise the debt ceiling by August 2nd.In a stark example of typical Washington backwardness, Congress has realised it is too polarised to vote to raise the debt limit — so it is considering voting to allow the debt limit to be raised (as long lawmakers don’t object). It’s a ridiculous parliamentary move, but it’s also an ingenious solution to the current impasse.
With Republicans and Democrats still facing off on the size and substance of spending cuts, and especially on any mention of new revenues, the McConnell plan offers both sides an out from their hard-line negotiating positions.
The technical details
McConnell’s proposal would raise the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion — enough to last until after the 2012 election — in three tranches. At each stage Congress would have to “vote to disapprove” of the increase in order to prevent an increase in borrowing, which after a certain Presidential veto, would mean that only one-third of Congress would need to consent to raising the debt limit.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is reportedly working with McConnell on the proposal, helping to include about $1.5 trillion in spending cuts agreed to in the deficit reduction talks led by Vice President Joe Biden upfront. Additional steps to reduce the deficit would then be considered in a straight up-or-down vote, after a new bipartisan commission reaches an agreement on proposed cuts later this year.
Can it pass?
The intensely partisan state of the House of Representatives makes any deal difficult, but it is increasingly clear that the McConnell plan is the only plan at least somewhat acceptable to both sides that has a real shot at becoming law.
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) endorsed it as a contingency plan Thursday, saying that “what may look like less than optimal today, if we’re unable to get to an agreement, might look pretty good a couple of weeks from now.”
Earlier this week the McConnell plan drew quick condemnation from conservatives, who called it a “surrender” to Obama and Democrats on spending cuts. The original McConnell plan placed the onus on Obama to draft equal spending cuts to the amount of the debt limit increase.
Jim Manley, a Democratic strategist and former top Reid aide, criticised it as a “complete abdication of any sort of legislative responsibility,” which it in many ways is.
But it is also a useful plan to around a do-little Congress, and perhaps the best shot of ensuring that the government can meet its obligations on August 3rd.
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