McConnell’s ‘contingency plan’, cont’d

Following up on the last post, the details of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) contingency plan for the debt ceiling are still coming together. At this point, I’m still not sure what to make of it, except to marvel at its Rube Goldberg complexity.(If Republicans simply took five minutes to pass a clean bill, the way they did seven times in eight years when Bush was in office, it’d save everyone a lot of headaches.)

A couple of things seem clear at this point. The first is that McConnell realized the talks were going nowhere — Democrats would continue to ask Republicans to compromise and the GOP would continue to refuse. That doesn’t only lead to a catastrophic outcome, it also makes Republicans look ridiculous. He needed a safety valve to get out of this — one that wouldn’t need new revenue — and this new plan fits the bill.

The second is that McConnell cares far more about politics and process than policy outcomes. His new scheme is cowardly and kind of pathetic to the extent that it shifts power away from Congress, but it will force a whole lot of votes on the debt, which the Minority Leader hopes will make Democrats feel uncomfortable. If a proposal leads to votes that can be used in attack ads, Mitch McConnell is necessarily pleased. If the proposal allows Republicans to vote against debt ceiling extensions without crashing the economy, he’s even more pleased.

It’s the practical details of the process that I’m still fuzzy on. Greg Sargent reported:

[A]s McConnell said today, you would need two-thirds of both Houses of Congress to block Obama’s requests for the debt ceiling hikes. If the House and Senate did pass resolutions of disapproval, Obama would presumably veto them — requiring two thirds of both Houses to override the vetoes. […]

At bottom, McConnell’s proposal is the latest GOP line on the debt ceiling — it’s Obama’s problem, not ours — taken to its logical and legislative conclusion.

Right. When John Boehner said earlier that the entire crisis isn’t his “problem,” the Speaker was probably being literal, or at least aspirational.

The one question I can’t find a solid answer to is what, if anything, would be cut and by how much. The Hill reported the administration would be required to “suggest spending cuts” to accompany three separate requests to raise the debt ceiling, “but would not require such cuts.” Obama could not, under this scenario, recommend new revenue.

If that’s right, then McConnell seems to be blinking awfully hard.

In other words, in this little scenario, President Obama would have to offer proposals for spending cuts, with no corresponding measures to raise revenue. But it also appears that these proposed cuts from the White House need not even be serious — Obama could present plans he doesn’t take especially seriously, with the full expectation that Congress could and probably would reject them.

It would make the process needlessly ugly and stupid, but McConnell’s plan would seem to allow for a debt-ceiling increase with no guarantee of any spending cuts at all. Republicans would get a bunch of chances to grandstand, and rant and rave about Democrats, while putting all of the onus on the White House, but that’s not much. Republicans were going to grandstand, rant, rave, and point fingers anyway.