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

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Treasury dubs the entire matter the “McConnell Provision,” but the Senate minority leader himself dismisses it. The original idea, he says, came at a particular moment – specifically, one at which Republicans won concessions from Democrats in the form of a boatload of spending cuts.

“The debt ceiling was raised last year only after the White House agreed to at least $2 trillion in cuts to Washington spending, and agreed to be bound by the timing and amount set by Congress – not [the president’s] own whim,” says Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senator McConnell. “The president wants to have the ability to raise the debt ceiling whenever he wants, for as much as he wants, with no responsibility or spending cuts attached. This is an idea opposed by Democrats and Republicans alike; it's a power grab that has no support here.”

No one disputes that McConnell’s office designed the debt-ceiling mechanism used in the summer of 2011.

"I decided to make [the president] own" the debt ceiling, McConnell told journalist Bob Woodward, according to Mr. Woodward’s book "Price of Politics." "We thought he ought to own it. It's part of my job to protect my members, if I can, against having to vote for it."

Congress's role is of direct concern because America will hit its new debt ceiling some time in the first quarter of 2013.

Republicans see the debt ceiling as a leverage point from which to extract spending cuts from Democrats. 

Democrats and a growing group of business leaders view politicizing the debt ceiling as unnecessarily threatening the nation’s credit rating and deflating business confidence. 

“I want to send a very clear message to people here,” Mr. Obama told a group of business leaders Wednesday. “We are not going to play that game next year. If Congress in any way suggests that they're going to tie negotiations to debt-ceiling votes and take us to the brink of default once again as part of a budget negotiation, which, by the way, we have never done in our history until we did it last year, I will not play that game because we've got to, we've got to break that habit before it starts.” 

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