McConnell move on debt ceiling backfires
Senator forced to filibuster bill he pushed
The political posturing -- and theater -- related to the fiscal cliff continued Thursday as Senate leaders squared off over whether to make it harder for Congress to block future increases in the debt ceiling.
At issue was a move by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- and meant to put Democrats in a tough spot -- that backfired. McConnell pushed for a vote on an idea he first proposed last year as part of the debt ceiling standoff.
The legislation would allow the president to increase the debt ceiling without congressional approval, though Congress could block the move if a two-thirds majority of both the House and Senate voted to disapprove it. Democrats want the change because raising the limit has become increasingly contentious, as Republicans have demanded spending cuts and other reforms to go along with it. Another debt limit increase is needed early next year.
McConnell now opposes the change he once advanced because it was intended as a one-time solution to the deadlock over the debt last year. Nevertheless, he pushed for a vote on it because he wanted to show that even some Democrats oppose giving the president that much authority, and he knew there was no way Democrats could garner the 60 votes typically needed for major legislation to pass the Senate.
But in the back-and-forth legislative chess match that often plays out on the Senate floor, Democratic Leader Harry Reid instead moved to pass the measure with a 51-vote threshold, confident that he had at least that many votes to give Democrats a victory.
Recognizing that, McConnell objected to voting at the lower threshold -- meaning he was filibustering the bill he had just pushed for a vote.
As expected, Democrats did declare victory and argued that Republican defeat was another sign that they are losing the bigger battle over the fiscal cliff.
"Senator McConnell's filibuster prevented us from having this vote today, but I will continue to seek an agreement to hold an up-or-down vote on his proposal to avoid another debt ceiling debacle," Reid said.
"We have the higher ground," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "They know that they got burnt the last time by using the debt ceiling for political leverage. Things are even more in our advantage today."
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