Politics

10.08.13

Harry Reid's Latest Move

Brian Beutler of Salon reports on a new card that Harry Reid is about to play. It's a little complicated, so I hope I'm explaining this clearly.

Back during the 2011 debt fight, Mitch McConnell of all people proposed that the president should have the authority to increase the debt limit unilaterally unless two-thirds of both houses of Congress objected. McConnell's idea is explained more fully here.

Why would McConnell have given Obama that authority? Not because he wanted to do something nice for him. Rather, it was to spare Congress the trouble of having to cast a difficult vote, and to make the president take all the political heat for increasing the debt limit, a move that never polls well. So in 2011, this would have given Republicans and Mitt Romney another arrow--the profligate Obama irresponsibly raising our debt, etc etc.

Reid is now revisiting that proposal. He plans to introduce legislation along exactly these lines. What's his motiviation? I think it's as follows.

First of all, bear in mind that if this idea were law, debt ceiling fights would basically end, because you'd need the votes of 67 senators and 290 House members to block any president from raising the debt limit. Since it's highly unlikely that either party would have that kind of control of either body, and since such a vote would require pretty massive defections by members of a president's party on a politically sensitive issue, it seems like such a vote would almost never succeed.

Reid and the Democrats can pass this legislation, of course, this week. They have the majority in the Senate. But Reid is betting that the Republicans will announce a filibuster, which would mean the legislation would require 60 votes, not 51, to pass. So the net effect would be, Reid hopes, that the public will see that Reid and the Democrats have proposed a way out of this mess so that we don't ever have to go through this again, and that the Republicans will filibuster it.

So it'll be interesting to see how McConnell handles this. One presumes he'll be against it. But then Reid will say: "Mitch, this was your idea!" McConnell can try to attach conditions to it, I suppose, but if those conditions are poison pills rather than items that Democrats just might be willing to accept, he won't have altered the debate, and the Republicans will still be seen as the obstructionists by more people than the other way around.

And maybe, who knows, they don't filibuster. Or maybe seven Republicans vote with the Democrats. Not insanely impossible: McCain, Corker, Murkowski, this Chiesa guy from Jersey who's only there til next year anyway...Graham is iffier now that he's got three primary opponents swatting him from the right. Seven is a long shot, but I know that the Democrats are working on it.

Then, if this passed the Senate, how much pressure would be on the House to accept it? A lot. How much would that pressure matter to the House Republicans? Maybe not much. But it might prove awfully hard for John Boehner to refuse to take up a bill that had quasi-bipartisan Senate support and that can solve this debt-limit problem not just now but for all time or something close to it. So it's a good idea both politically and on the merits, but probably too logical to succeed in this climate.