Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposal to give President Barack Obama authority to raise the debt limit without prior congressional approval of spending cuts has created a quandary for Republicans.
On one hand, the Kentucky senator’s blueprint would prevent the government from defaulting on its debt, an outcome that would guarantee economic disaster and perhaps political suicide for the GOP as well.
But on the other hand, the plan leaves no guarantee that the deep spending reductions insisted upon by conservatives would ever come to fruition.
Under the McConnell’s proposal, Congress would temporarily forego its authority to approve a lifting of the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, handing Obama the power to do so. Instead, Congress would authorize more than $2.5 trillion in new borrowing authority for the Treasury. The Treasury would take on its new debt in three tranches: $700 billion this month, $900 billion in the fall and $900 billion next summer.
Each time, the president would have to provide spending cuts in an amount matching the new borrowing. But Congress could reject one of the tranches only by passing a veto-proof resolution of disapproval.
As a veto override requires assent from two-thirds of both the House and Senate, the McConnell plan gives veto power to a third of each chamber. And that’s unacceptable to House conservatives. With Democrats holding 53 seats in the Senate and 44 percent of House seats, Obama would control the cards.
Still, that would absolve Republicans of blame should things go awry.
|The House Speaker on Friday. (AP)
House Speaker John Boehner is open to the idea. “Mitch described his proposal as a last-ditch effort, in case we’re unable to do anything else,” the Ohio Republican told reporters Thursday.
“What may look like something less than optimal today if we’re unable to reach an agreement, it might look pretty good a couple of weeks from now. … Frankly, I think it is an option that may be worthy at some point.”
McConnell introduced his plan as a result of the inability of the White House and congressional Republicans to reach a “grand bargain” on raising the debt limit and slashing the budget deficit at the same time. The sticking point is tax increases. Obama insists on tax hikes for the wealthy and corporations, while many Republicans are opposed to any rise in taxes.
McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid already are mulling expansion of the bill to include additional spending cuts previously discussed with the Obama administration. McConnell is calling for an upfront accord creating spending caps for fiscal year 2012 and 2013 budget appropriations bills.
As for conservative Republicans, many are having none of McConnell’s plan. “I would say, ‘No way,’” said Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, Politico reports. The committee’s members include about 75 percent of the House GOP contingent.
“Everybody I’ve talked to over here says, ‘No way,’” echoed Florida Rep. Tom Rooney, who is part of the whip team tallying votes.
“The reactions of more than a dozen rank-and-file Republicans suggest Boehner would have a revolt on his hands if he brings it to the floor in anything resembling its current form,” according to Politico.
Strong criticism of McConnell’s plan has come from powerful conservative Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, a rising presidential candidate.
DeMint said Republicans would be shunning their duty by handing debt limit authority to the president. “This idea that Republicans will not vote to increase the debt limit [by approving the McConnell plan] is wrong,” DeMint told CBS News.
“Republicans were elected last November to get control of the spending, borrowing and debt,” DeMint told reporters. “The last thing we should do is make it easier to spend and borrow money.”
To be sure, Boehner isn’t the only Republican who recommends consideration of the McConnell proposal. “At least it’s a stab at trying to find some way out of this,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers told Politico.
“McConnell, obviously, is shrewd, … smart, experienced. He’s created a conversation, at least. We’ll see how it goes. I don’t want to condemn it out of hand, because it possibly could work.”
Democrats are of two minds about the plan as well.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday he was “heartened” by McConnell’s idea and lauded him for proposing it. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says it has “merit.”
But other Democrats were less enthusiastic.
“The McConnell plan does nothing about the debt. How can that be?” said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad. And House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer told the Bill Press radio show that McConnell’s formulation “punts the ball down the road.”
So the debt limit debate grinds on, defying easy prediction of what will happen by Aug. 2, the date by which the Treasury estimates it needs to borrow more money to pay all its bills.
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