Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are reportedly planning legislation allowing President Barack Obama to lift the nation’s debt ceiling on his authority, according to sources on Capitol Hill.
Under the potential Senate Republican plan, Congress would merely retain the right to “disapprove” of the President’s action to lift the nation’s debt limit. But disapproving the action would require a hard-to-reach two-thirds vote of both chambers of Congress.
Political observers may recognize this move. It is similar to the Corker-Cardin legislation that allowed Obama to agree to the nuclear deal with Iran. The Corker legislation simply allowed Congress to disapprove the action, albeit with a vote threshold that was almost impossible to attain. It conveniently allowed the Iran deal to come into force while enabling Republicans to vote against the treaty in everything but name.
Adopting the Corker framework for the debt ceiling does two things important to Sen. McConnell. It would allow the nation’s debt ceiling to increase, empowering the Treasury Department to continue borrowing funds. It would also allow most Republicans to cast symbolic votes against lifting the debt ceiling. They could then campaign saying they were against raising the debt ceiling in the upcoming elections next Fall.
It’s a plan only a politician in Washington could love. It also goes a long way to explain the visceral disgust most voters feel towards Washington. On a more fundamental level, it explains the existential crisis gripping the Republican party.
The debt ceiling limits the amount of debt the federal government can accumulate, and is now set at $18,100 billion. The federal government is borrowing additional funds for the expected 2016 budget, so it will hit that limit sometime after Nov. 3. Unless raised again, the ceiling would bar additional borrowing, and would force politically painful cuts in annual federal spending.
The Republican party in Washington is basically in the business of hiring hit-men, to ensure it has a solid alibi when a crime is committed.
The operational strategy of the Republican party now is to avoid any protracted political fight with Obama or the Democrats and hope to gain marginal political advantage in the next election. It presumably is working for a day when it control all levers of government by such a margin that it can enact its platform with zero political risk.
In the coming weeks, while most of the political world is consumed with the battle to replace John Boehner as House Speaker, the Congressional calendar is chocked-full of measures that the Washington establishment thinks must be passed. A new spending bill must be authorized by early December. The Treasury Department says the debt ceiling must be lifted in early November to avoid a potential default on the nation’s debt. There is a “need” to shore-up the Highway Trust Fund and a desperate push by corporate donors to reestablish the Export-Import Bank.
The pending Senate plan to give Obama the power to lift the debt ceiling is preview of how Republicans plan to navigate these waters. They would rather cede Congressional authority over the purse to Obama than have a debate or fight.
If Senate Republicans go through with a Corker-type bill granting Obama the power to lift the debt ceiling, as seems likely, it raises the question not only of why we have Republicans, but why we have a Senate.