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McConnell Faces Debt Limit Test

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call

“The question is, do you want to have the Democrats deliver the votes to pass it,” the South Dakota Republican said. “If you force a 60-vote threshold, obviously it would take Republicans to get it. ... What we want to do on this is ... maximize the opportunity to get some of these other things passed. So I’m sure that will be part of the calculation about how to approach it.”

But Thune pointed out that McConnell and his leadership team have only so much sway in reining in their Members, noting that “any individual Senator can make that more difficult to achieve” by determining on his own to mount a filibuster.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has advised lawmakers that the government will hit the current debt ceiling on May 16 but that the Treasury Department could use “extraordinary measures” to keep the United States out of default until about July 8.

Historically, presidents have relied on lawmakers from their own parties to supply the votes to raise the debt limit, as was the case for the last increase, which passed the Senate on a 60-39 party-line vote in January 2010.

But Senate Democrats no longer have a filibuster-proof majority, so Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) would have to peel off a handful of Republicans to support the increase if there is a GOP filibuster. That would make Reid’s task more difficult but also would complicate Republicans’ efforts to blame Democrats for raising the debt.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn said forcing a Democrats-only vote in favor of the debt limit increase could help “facilitate a very important contrast” between the two parties in the next election cycle.

“I just think the next election is going to be one of contrasts,” the Texan said.

But Cornyn said the approach also could give Republicans leverage to “get something meaningful done” in the way of spending reforms.

“By doing it in a bipartisan way, that sort of eliminates the political pain or gain,” he said. “But if in fact there isn’t any prospect of getting something meaningful done, then I intend to vote against an increase in the debt limit, and one of the honors of being in the majority is that you get to supply the votes to raise it.”

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