Senate Debt Deal Weakens Congress on Debt Ceiling

Senate Debt Deal Weakens Congress on Debt Ceiling

Capitol Hill talk regarding the Senate deal apparently includes a provision that would take away the Congress’ power to increase the debt ceiling. According to Politico, it looks like the buzz appears to be true.:

The plan includes a proposal offered by McConnell in the 2011 debt ceiling crisis that allows Congress to disapprove of the debt ceiling increase, which means lawmakers will formally vote on whether to reject a debt ceiling increase until Feb. 7. Obama can veto that legislation if it passes. If Congress fails as expected to gather a two-thirds majority to override the veto, the debt ceiling would be raised.

National Journal reported last week:

Whether it’s four weeks from now or in one year, there’d be even less reason to put faith in a last-minute deal next time the U.S. is up against the debt limit.

There’s only one foolproof way to avoid a future crisis: Fundamentally change the way the debt ceiling works. 

This approach isn’t all that radical. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., proposed a reform in January that would change the debt-ceiling mechanism so that Congress would vote to disapprove of an increase, as opposed to approving one. Such a change would limit debt-ceiling negotiations to a veto-proof majority, while still leaving Congress with some power.

The most interesting part of this proposal? It was originally floated in 2011 by Republican leader Sen. Mitch McConnell. The potential for a bipartisan deal here that fixes the debt-limit problem is real. Sen. Boxer continues to advocate for the change. Right now though, Harry Reid’s office says the senator is not considering any disapproval mechanism. But that could change as this process moves on.

Such a plan would be obviously good for Democrats, as they can get the immediate gratification of not having to risk default in order to fully implement the Affordable Care Act. But it’d be good for Republicans too, who could not only avoid the stigma of blame for a default, but also presumably reap the ruling-party rewards in future Congresses and presidencies. It would also put an immediate political target on President Obama, and Democrats by association, for being the sole entity responsible for raising the debt limit by over a trillion dollars. That opportunity has got to sound pretty good to Republicans ahead of 2014.

Additionally, New York Magazine remarked, the provision would “defang the debt ceiling, returning it to its historical place as an opportunity for ineffectual posturing rather than extortion.” However it would only apply to the next debt ceiling vote.  The debt limit can only currently be increased if Congress affirmatively votes to raise it and the president signs it into law.  During Congress’ last debt limit debate in 2011, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R – KY) wanted to invert this process by making it automatic, unless Congress voted against it and the president did not veto it.  Theoretically, Congress could override a veto, but given the current makeup of both chambers that would be nearly impossible.



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