Senator McConnell's Plan B -- un"B"lievable!

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's "Plan B" to raise the debt limit is astonishing — and may be needed.

The astonishing proposal on July 12 from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks volumes about how far from a deficit reduction agreement the two parties and the Administration are. Senator McConnell proposes that Congress cede the power to increase the debt limit to the President. If this proposal were adopted, the President would ask Congress to raise the debt limit. Congress would either agree or not (presumably not) by passing legislation. If Congress refused the request, the President would veto the legislation and 34 Senators (presumably Democrats) would be required to sustain the veto. The President could then raise the debt limit on his own authority, provided commensurate spending cuts were identified.

Depending on your point of view, this proposal is either incredibly 'adult' or incredibly cynical. In either case, it provides a way for a hopelessly divided Congress to allow the debt limit to be increased without taking responsibility for the decision, and decouples the debt limit controversy from long-term deficit reduction negotiations. If this measure is adopted, Congress can stand aside, criticize the decision to raise the debt limit, and avoid taking the vote that its leadership is now afraid would not muster 50%.

There is a lot of opposition to this proposal (predictably) within the House Republican Caucus. Many in the Caucus remain convinced that they can bring the President and the process to heel and produce a deficit reduction package that would appeal to the most conservative in the Caucus. These tend to be the same Caucus members who think the threats about U.S. default are overblown.

It takes two parties to compromise, of course. The President is adamant that the debt ceiling must be raised, quickly, and supports a comprehensive deal that would include revenue increases as well as spending cuts. But there would be no deal without some kind of revenue provision, and Republicans have been unable to win any sort of compromise in that stance. On the flipside, see the entry below from June 30, the Republican leadership is concerned it can’t muster a majority vote for any deal that includes taxes, regardless of other concessions the Republicans might win.

Democrats and the White House have been more circumspect about the McConnell proposal. Clearly Republicans think the President will pay a political price for raising the debt limit; that's why there is some support for passing the buck. But could he also reap political benefits by being the policymaker who (in his words) eats his peas? Stay tuned. Negotiations for a 'Plan A' deal haven't broken down entirely, but for all the reasons above, the odds of an old-fashioned deal are getting longer.

Saved by Zero?

On July 7, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science 'marked up' the Fiscal Year 2012 appropriation for those agencies plus NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The budgets of most agencies were cut, but funding for NSF was held at Fiscal Year 2011 levels ($6.86 billion). Unfortunately, holding the line may be the best deal that NSF, and most research funding agencies, can hope for in this ‘Year of Less is More.’ This year the Subcommittee had six percent less than the Fiscal 2011 total overall to allocate to agencies. The full Appropriations Committee on July 13, only made some slight changes that will be detailed in the next issue of SPIN. The NSF increase still looks like zero, at least for the House version of the legislation.