Debt-ceiling kabuki

As part of the debt-ceiling agreement reached in August, congressional Republicans won some procedural concessions, in addition to the policy changes. This included votes in both chambers on a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution, both of which have already failed miserably.

It also included this convoluted process.

The White House plans to ask Congress by the end of the week for an increase in the government’s debt ceiling to allow the United States to pay its bills on time, according to a senior U.S. Treasury Department official on Tuesday.

The approval is expected to go through without a challenge, given that Congress is in recess until later in January and the request is in line with an agreement to keep the U.S. government funded into 2013.

In case you’ve forgotten — or tried to wash this from your memory — Republicans had threatened to crash the economy on purpose. As part of the ransom, a system was put in place in which President Obama would ask Congress to raise the debt ceiling right about now. The increase would proceed unless Congress voted to stop it, and even if Congress did, Obama could veto lawmakers’ disapproval and raise the limit anyway.

Remember, Republicans thought all of this was terribly clever.

The assumption was that the White House would make the request in January, so it looks like Obama jumped the gun a little. In this case, the president has given Congress 15 days to respond to his “request,” knowing full well that the House won’t return for another three weeks, and the Senate won’t come back until two weeks after the House.

Is this an example of the White House “jamming” Congress? Maybe a little, but it’s just as easy to say the president is doing lawmakers a favor by expediting the process and circumventing the charade — it’s not like Congress would be in a position to stop the debt-ceiling increase anyway, even if majorities wanted to, which they don’t.

Incidentally, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has proposed a debt-ceiling reform measure, which would allow the White House — not just Obama’s, but all future administrations — to raise the debt ceiling unless Congress formally disapproves the increase. The point is to shift the responsibility — instead of the status quo, in which Congress has to act to raise the ceiling, Boxer’s plan would let the executive branch act unless lawmakers said otherwise.

It’s not a bad idea, though at this point, any reform of this ridiculous process would be welcome. My vote, for what it’s worth, is to simply eliminate the ceiling altogether, since it serves no purpose, and can be exploited by lunatic lawmaker and easily turned into a hostage crisis.