Mitch McConnell’s good idea

Hard to know whether to laugh or cry at the Republican party’s response to Mitch McConnell’s debt-ceiling proposal. One segment of conservative opinion sees it as a shrewd idea, a masterstroke even. Another regards it as a sell-out of historic dimensions. And a third appears to think it is both, and is trying to clarify its position.

What McConnell is suggesting is absurd in an inimitably Washington way, but may very well be the best way of out of the impasse. He suggests an arcane procedure that, if I understand it correctly, would let the president propose a raising of the ceiling, which the House would then vote down, leaving the president to veto the rejection. (Presumably there would be too few votes in Congress to override the veto.) Republicans can like this, goes the thinking, because they can vote against the raising of the ceiling, which would thus be all Obama’s fault. Democrats can like it because the ceiling is raised without having to meet all (or any?) of the GOP’s demands on spending. Come the election, voters can decide who they agree with.

I like the idea because, at a time when more intelligent options appear to have no traction at all, it is way to get the ceiling raised, and that should now be the overriding priority. But I do wonder about McConnell’s political reasoning. This kind of procedural squirming is one of the things Americans most detest about Congress. McConnell is suggesting a way to raise the ceiling–which he quite rightly says has to be done–while retaining and then exercising the option to denounce the raising of the ceiling. “We agree to let you do it, so long as you agree to let us attack you for it.” How brave. How principled. Voters are expected to like this?

Mind you, they would like a default even less–and they would rightly put most of the blame for that on Republicans. I don’t know whether the legislative kinks can be ironed out of this scheme in time to make it work. But if they can I see this as sensible damage control for Republicans (judged against the hit they would take under the relevant alternative: default); a good thing for Democrats; and a good thing for the country. Go McConnell.

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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