In a proposal that appears to be mostly about finding a way to raise the debt ceiling while protecting his fellow congressional Republicans from having to vote to do so, Sen. Mitch McConnell has suggested a way in which Congress could effectively give President Obama the power to raise the debt ceiling.
But it would also seem meant to potentially put Obama on the defensive by having him take the political heat for raising the debt ceiling. Repeated polls have found a majority of Americans opposed to a higher debt ceiling.
McConnell, the Senate's top Republican, is proposing a legislative maneuver that would give lawmakers the opportunity to reject a debt-ceiling increase.
Under McConnell's plan, a "resolution of disapproval" to boost the debt-limit by $2.5 trillion would be introduced in both chambers with a majority of lawmakers voting for the resolution. In other words, they would have the chance to vote against any increase.
Obama would then veto the resolution, a veto Congress would be unable to override with the required two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate. That would allow the U.S. to legally go beyond its $14.3 trillion debt ceiling and avoid a widely feared, first-ever general default by the U.S. government on its obligations.
A passage from a Politico article provides a sense of why senior Senate Republicans like the idea:
"It gives the president 100 percent of the responsibility for increasing the debt limit if he chooses not to have any spending reductions," Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, the Republican Conference chairman, told reporters Tuesday.
How the plan will sit with House Republicans is unclear. But it offers an escape valve for those in the Senate GOP who fear that if the current crisis persists they will be forced to accept some tax revenue increases as part of any settlement.
Worth noting is that Congress generally guards its prerogatives jealously, stoutly resisting yielding this kind of power to a president.
The very fact that Senate Republicans are putting forward such a proposal could be read as a sign of their mounting anxiety about a possible default as the Aug. 2 deadline approaches.
It also suggests how much political gamesmanship is involved if Senate Republicans are now willing to hand over such power to Obama.
It appears to be a case of accepting a short-term loss if the long-term gain is to increase Obama's chances of being a one-term president. McConnell has said publicly that a one-term Obama is his goal.
It's not just about putting pressure on the president, of course, but on congressional Democrats.
McConnell's proposal would require several votes as the debt-ceiling would be increased in stages. That would mean congressional Democrats would have to go on record more than once with votes to increase the limit, if they decided to rally round their president. In short, it would a Republican political ad makers dream.