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McConnell Tries to Up Debt Limit and Stick It to Obama

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Tuesday unveiled a backup plan of last resort to increase the debt ceiling and cut spending.

McConnell held an additional meeting Tuesday morning with his Conference to outline the plan, modeled after the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to overturn federal agency regulations with measures of disapproval. And while the Minority Leader made it clear to reporters the tactic was a "last-choice option," it's also evident McConnell was not coy about its political intent with his members, 12 of whom have signed the Cut, Cap and Balance Pledge. That pledge signifies, "We would not support any debt limit plan that didn't first satisfy those conditions," according to an aide to a signatory.

GOP aides did not overtly deny that there would be political incentives to enacting the plan, which would put Democrats on the spot three times before the 2012 elections. Under the plan, Congress would have to vote first this month for a $700 billion increase, a second time this fall for an additional $900 billion and a third time next summer for another
$900 billion. But they also said that by including a provisional $100 billion that would be immediately added to the debt ceiling at the time of the president's first request, they are putting an option on the table to avert default on Aug. 2.

First, however, Congress would have to pass a bill to set up the votes and resolutions of disapproval, putting Republicans on the hook for voting for that additional $100 billion in debt. It's unclear whether such a measure would come anywhere close to getting the support of House Republicans or Senate Democrats, both of whom would need to play along for the strategy to be successful.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday afternoon, "I'm not about to trash his proposal. It's something I'll look at." Reid added that he and McConnell had discussed the measure briefly Tuesday.

Tuesday on Fox News, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said, "Everybody believes there needs to be a backup plan ... and, frankly, I think Mitch has done good work."

McConnell apparently was inspired to launch his plan after a nearly two-hour-long White House meeting Monday afternoon during which leaders reviewed spending cuts identified last month by a bipartisan group led by Vice President Joseph Biden. McConnell asked only one question, according to a Republican source familiar with the talks: "How much does the Biden plan actually cut from next year's discretionary spending budget?"

Obama's Office of Management and Budget director, Jacob Lew, told him, "$2 billion," at which point McConnell expressed his frustration that no one in the room was taking their task seriously.

Whether McConnell's political gamble will pay off is yet to be seen. The proposal was discussed at the White House on Tuesday afternoon.

However, the proposal was dismissed immediately by conservatives, who accused the leader of effectively caving on the debt limit and choosing a classic Washington political strategy instead of forcing the kinds of cuts that the right has been demanding.

Of note, the Senate Republican proposal does not require any upfront cuts from the president.

"McConnell's plan is an irresponsible surrender to big government, big deficits and continued overspending. I oppose it," 2012 presidential hopeful and former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) tweeted.

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