Three Democratic senators, led by Charles E. Schumer of New York, introduced legislation Tuesday to permanently install a new procedure on the debt limit that would all-but-eliminate the threat of default.
The bill would make permanent a rule devised in 2011 by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that uses resolutions of disapproval to enable the president to extend the debt limit while also technically allowing minority lawmakers to vote against that authorization— a maneuver McConnell said was designed to be used on a case-by-case basis.
Democrats announced the legislation on the same day the Senate was scheduled to vote on a resolution of disapproval for the most recent agreed-upon debt limit hike. The bill would allow the president to ask for a debt ceiling increase when the government got to within $100 billion of its limit and would require Congress to vote on a disapproval resolution within 15 days of the president's request.
McConnell took to the Senate floor Tuesday morning, before the Democrats held their news conference, to dispute their offering, saying it was never his intent to give the president permanent authority to use the mechanism for debt limit increases. The Kentucky Republican said he could not support a bill Democrats had pegged to his name.
"[Schumer] wants to extend the debt ceiling permanently by going around Congress. Let me repeat that: the so-called ‘Schumer-Obama Plan’ is a plan to permanently hand the president a credit card without spending limits, and without lifting a finger to address the national debt," McConnell said. "I reject that idea entirely.
"I believe that increases in the debt ceiling should be accompanied by reforms," he continued. "That’s just what we did in 2011, when Congress raised the debt ceiling in return for enacting $2 trillion in bipartisan spending control — the spending control the president campaigned on endlessly."
It's worth noting that the vote Tuesday on a resolution of disapproval to increase the debt limit did not come on the condition of any form of spending cuts or entitlement changes. Holding the vote was supported by 81 senators. And the so-called "credit card without spending limits" that would be possessed by the president is more like a pre-paid card, with Congress appropriating and approving all the spending before the president signs it into law.
McConnell said Democrats would not "find any dance partners on this side of the aisle." Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., one of the bill's co-sponsors said that "talks are ongoing" with offices of members in both parties to find support for the legislation.
The Democratic sponsors of the measure said they have not talked to the White House about the plan, but are sure President Barack Obama would support it. At this point, it seems unlikely that they can get such a bill approved in either the House or Senate. Strategically, they likely would have had a better chance had they tried to negotiate such a permanent change while they had more leverage over Republicans, such as when the government was shut down and teetering toward default.