Anti-Tax Lawmakers Cry Uncle in Debt Ceiling Talks?



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Republican Senate Leader McConnell's Plan Would Avoid Forcing the Spending Cuts that He Knows Are Highly Unpopular

On Tuesday, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) offered a convoluted proposal in which a bill to raise the debt ceiling would be passed by Congress — requiring Republican and Democratic votes — followed by subsequent meaningless votes that would allow many lawmakers, even a majority of lawmakers, to pretend that they disapprove of the increase in the debt ceiling and lay the blame on President Obama.

McConnell's proposal is for the Congress to enact a bill allowing the President to increase the debt ceiling in incremental steps and giving Congress a chance to pass subsequent bills blocking each of those incremental increases. Of course, the President would veto any of these subsequent bills preventing an increase in the debt ceiling.

In fact, subsequent bills to prevent the President from raising the debt ceiling may not even pass the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats. Of course, Senators of either party could hypocritically shift from approving the first bill to give the President this power to supporting a subsequent bill to take this power away from the President. Such shiftiness is to be expected in Congress today.

After the initial bill is passed to give the President the power to increase the debt limit, it's possible that no one will pay any attention to subsequent votes on bills related to the debt ceiling. Votes on bills that don't pass usually do not generate much of a buzz. For example, it's not obvious that the public remembers when Senate Republicans and a few Democrats filibustered a full extension of the Bush tax cuts for 98 percent of taxpayers last year. 

The Retreat

Earlier this year GOP leaders threatened to block any increase in the debt ceiling unless it came with spending cuts equal at least to the amount by which the debt ceiling would be increased, $2.4 trillion. Of course, failure to raise the debt ceiling would cause an unprecedented default by the U.S. on its debt obligations and send the financial markets into a tailspin.

Last week, the President proclaimed his desire to agree on a larger decrease in the deficit, of $4 trillion over ten years, including savings from Social Security and Medicare.

As talks proceeded the White House pushed for an agreement that would achieve just one fourth of the $4 trillion in deficit reduction from revenue increases and the other three fourths from spending cuts. This offer seemed wildly tilted to the anti-tax lawmakers, especially given that the U.S. is one of the least taxed countries in the industrialized world.

Over the weekend, Republican House Speaker John Boehner gave up on such an ambitious deal even though it would have been so skewed towards his priorities. Boehner said he wanted to find agreement on a smaller deficit reduction deal and a short-term increase in the debt ceiling, which the President opposes. That prompted Senator McConnell to make his offer, which essentially gives up any attempt to force cuts in spending in return for an increase in the debt ceiling. 

See related article: The Real Reason GOP Leaders Want to Give Up the Debt Ceiling Fight: The Public Opposes Deficit-Reduction by Cutting Spending Alone

Photo via Gage Skidmore Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

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