Senate Republicans mounted a bold offensive today against President Obama’s effort to force them to accept a tax hike as part of a bipartisan agreement to raise the debt limit.
The Republican plan would, in effect, end the talks at the White House on a deal. Obama has deftly exploited the talks to portray Republicans as willing to risk a government default on its debts rather than accede to a tax increase of $1 trillion or more.
To counter Obama, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell unveiled legislation requiring the president to submit a series of three requests – now, in the fall, and next summer – to increase the debt ceiling.
Each request would have to include spending cuts in excess of the amount of the increase in the limit on borrowing. If Congress rejected the cuts as insufficient by passing a “resolution of disapproval,” the president could send a new package of cuts or veto the resolution. Should his veto be sustained – at least 34 senators would be needed – the debt limit would rise with no cuts attached.
The idea behind the complicated plan is twofold. One, it would avert a tax increase. Two, it would, as a Senate aide said, “put all the onus [of raising the debt limit] on the president.” Assuming a bipartisan agreement is impossible – and the Republicans assume it is – “this is the only plan that would prevent a default.”
Gaining Senate passage of the measure will be difficult. Democrats control the Senate, 53-47, and could unite in opposition to defeat the bill or, if necessary, filibuster it. But the bill might appeal to Democrats seeking reelection next year in Republican-leaning states, giving them a chance to support raising the debt limit without boosting taxes.
Three Democratic senators have indicated they won’t vote for increasing the debt limit if a tax hike is attached to it: Jim Webb of Virginia, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
The Republican bill divides increases in the debt limit into three parts. The first, $700 billion, would be voted on before August 2 and last until the fall. Then a second bill for $900 billion would extend government borrowing through next summer, when a third increase, $900 billion, would have to be approved.
The move by Senate Republicans came after a speech earlier today by McConnell in which he disputed the president’s claim to have offered serious spending cuts as part of a compromise on the debt limit. Obama insisted the cuts show he’s willing to anger Democrats to get a deal.