First, it mirrored a plan originally proposed by Senator McConnell back in 2011 for raising the debt ceiling, giving Democrats the slim political cover to call it the “McConnell Provision.”
Second, it would shift effective control of the debt-ceiling debate from Capitol Hill to the White House – and would give Congress a very high vote threshold to block the measure, to boot.
Democrats – and some in the business community – like this approach because it would almost certainly prevent political confrontation from pushing the US into a default on its debts. When Congress and the White House tip-toed up to that possibility last summer, stock markets, consumer confidence, and business investment tanked. Actually defaulting could be catastrophic, economists warn.
But there’s another view on the debt ceiling.
On Wednesday night, Sen. Rob Portman (R) of Ohio sent a letter to the White House cosigned by 43 GOP Senators (enough to sustain a filibuster and block the legislation) telling the president, in short, to forget about his debt ceiling dream.
Senator Portman and his colleagues argue that the debt limit has helped focus Washington’s attention on the issue of debt and deficits, and that significant debt-reduction deals in the past have been attached to hikes in the debt ceiling.
“In short, nearly every significant deficit reduction law of the past 27 years has been linked to a debt limit debate,” the letter said. “For Congress to surrender its control over the debt limit would be to permanently surrender what has long provided the best opportunity to enact bipartisan deficit reduction legislation.”
But never underestimate the congressional urge to make your opponents look silly.
Out of the blue, McConnell came to the floor Thursday and asked for a vote on the president’s proposal.