Senate and House Democrats huddled Wednesday to discuss a plan that would use the McConnell proposal as a framework for a hybrid plan that also could include a number of the spending cuts discussed that emerged from talks led by Vice President Joseph Biden. Additional cuts could come from this week's White House discussions, and Democrats have said they also would like to create a joint committee on deficit reduction, which would be empowered with fast-track authority for floor votes.
While neither side is ecstatic about the prospect of McConnell's plan — it would place the burden of voting to lift the debt ceiling on Democrats and would fail to ensure the steep cuts touted by Republicans — the posturing of the past week suggests they are embracing it as a viable escape plan if another deal becomes impossible.
The likely votes on the balanced budget amendment and the Cut, Cap and Balance Act could play perfectly into this narrative.
"Everyone gets to vote on their Plan A before they go to Plan B," one Senate Republican aide said. "It's an important opportunity for everyone to go on the record for what they'd rather do — including people who support the McConnell plan. Everyone recognizes it's not a first choice, so it lets them show what would be while showing that Democrats are less willing to reduce spending."
It gives Republicans, especially of the tea party variety, an opportunity to sound off on the same issues that swept them into office last November.
But those votes may not satisfy all conservative rabble-rousers. As leaders quietly worked toward a legislative solution Friday, conservative Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) warned that he would lead a filibuster of McConnell's debt limit increase proposal.
"I'll use every tool in Senate to stop passage of 'Plan B' blank check debt limit increase," DeMint posted to Twitter on Friday. "No Republican was elected to give President Obama more power and that's what this plan does."
DeMint added in a another tweet, "GOP wasn't sent to Washington to cut, run & hide from debt fight with 'fallback' plan. We need to pass cut, cap & balance."
By giving into the demands of Members like DeMint with votes next week, it's possible leaders can avoid a filibuster that could jeopardize their delicate deal.
The conservative Club for Growth ripped the McConnell fallback plan as "everything that is wrong with Washington" and dismissed the Aug. 2 deadline as "meaningless."
Standard & Poor's, however, has indicated that hitting the Aug. 2 deadline without a deal would lead to a "selective default" rating on the debt, even if interest payments are made, and that it likely would have severe short-term and long-term consequences. The ratings company also warned Thursday that it is likely to downgrade the AAA-rated federal debt unless Congress reaches a $4 trillion deficit reduction deal sometime in the next 90 days.