The Corner

Dems Misconstrue McConnell to Increase White House Power

Guess what, guys! Mitch McConnell thinks we should let the president raise the debt ceiling whenever he wants, however much he wants! At least, that’s what a few leading Democratic senators seem to think. Background: Tim Geithner recently suggested that one way to help solve our fiscal woes would be to give the president the authority to raise the debt ceiling, so we wouldn’t have to go through anything like last summer’s Great Unpleasantness again (Constitution shmonstitution, am I right?). I mean, God forbid we let debate get in the way of raising spending.

Yesterday at the Capitol I brought this topic up with a number of senators and got some interesting responses. When I asked Senator Claire McCaskill (D., Mo.) what her take was on Geithner’s suggestion, she said, “You mean the McConnell rule? It was McConnell’s idea. I think McConnell’s idea is a good idea. I think it’s one of the best ideas Mitch McConnell’s ever had.” 

Senator Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) gave me a similar response. She said she has a bill that would do the following: “The president’s people come to Congress, they say how much they need for the coming year to raise the debt, and that would go into effect unless the Congress voted not to do it. So that’s my bill.” Then she added the following: “Well actually, it’s McConnell’s idea,” she told me. “It was done before. McConnell came up with this idea.” 

Yeah, not really. Last summer, McConnell suggested that the White House have the authority to propose raising the debt ceiling in installments, to pre-determined, fixed levels, if the administration also proposed specific spending cuts. Congress would be able to vote to pass a resolution of disapproval on the hikes, and the president could veto that resolution. This proposal was implemented as part of the Budget Control Act last summer, and after the hikes, the president’s new influence over the debt ceiling expired. So it’s preposterous to say that Geithner’s suggestion — that the president be able to raise the debt ceiling as much as he likes — is an echo of McConnell’s. McConnell’s was limited, and connected to spending cuts that were written into law; Geithner’s is unlimited and independent of cuts.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.) seems to understand the difference between the two proposals. But when I spoke with her earlier, she still seemed open to Geithner’s idea. “I think we need to look carefully at it,” she told me. “I never like to give away the division of powers between the branches of government but I do think that those people who are holding it up, who created the artificial crisis we had last summer over raising the debt ceiling — and therefore the country’s bond rating got downgraded at a cost to business and people across this country — is unforgivable, and it should not happen again.” 

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) lacked McCaskill’s enthusiasm for executive overreach, but still seemed open to giving more power to the president. He said he wanted to look more closely at Geithner’s suggestion, but that “there’s nothing wrong with an issue being on the table.”

I also asked some leading Republican senators the same question. Here are their responses, in no particular order:

John McCain (R., Ariz.): “I think it’s insane. It’s insane. I think it’s outrageous and insane.”

Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.): “In the history of dumb ideas, that may win. In a town known for dumb ideas, that would take the cake.”

Orrin Hatch (R., Utah): (laughing) “Oh are you kidding? We’ll never do that!” 

Kelly Ayotte (R., N. H.): “You know, when your credit card is maxed out, you don’t automatically issue another credit card.”

John Barrasso (R., Wyo.): “The Constitution says that is something the Congress needs to do, not the president.” Does it seem like a dramatic executive overreach? “It does, and it’s not going to happen.”

John Boozman (R., Ark.): “I think it’s crazy, not just for this president, but for any president.”

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