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Still playing offense, White House seeks to rewrite debt ceiling rules

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Charles Dharapak/AP

(Read caption) President Obama gestures as he speaks about the fiscal cliff at the Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers, in Washington, Wednesday. The president warned Republicans not to create another fight over the nation's debt ceiling, telling business leaders it's 'not a game that I will play.'

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The Obama administration believes the White House should have the ability to raise the nation's debt ceiling unless Congress leaps a very high bar to block it.

Currently, Congress must approve any increase in the amount of debt the United States government can take on – meaning a simple majority in the House and (usually) 60 votes in the Senate. Under a proposal floated Wednesday by the Obama administration, the bar for congressional intervention would be much higher: Lawmakers would need a veto-proof majority to block a debt-limit increase.  

Such a change “would lift the periodic threat of default from the U.S. economy and remove politics from future debt limit debates, while preserving Congress’ essential role in spending, revenue and borrowing decisions,” Jenni LeCompte, a Treasury spokeswoman, wrote in a blog post Wednesday.

If Congress were to approve the president's changes to the debt-ceiling process, future increases would occur in a way similar to how Congress resolved the debt increase in the summer of 2011. Under a plan originally proposed by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, President Obama asked for a debt-limit increase, and Congress could vote to disapprove of it. But if Congress could not come up with a veto-proof majority to halt an increase in the debt ceiling, the national debt limit would rise.  

In the future, the Treasury said, the process to raise the debt limit would work as follows:

The president asks Congress for a debt-ceiling bump, and both chambers have 15 days to pass a resolution expressing their disapproval. If they do, the president can then decide whether to block his own debt-ceiling hike by signing the legislation or, more likely, vetoing the bill. If the bill is vetoed, a two-thirds majority of both chambers of Congress is needed to override him. 

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