McConnell filibusters his own debt ceiling bill

In a move that perplexed and angered Democrats, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell today offered and then promptly filibustered his bill, which would have prevented a repeat of the 2011 debt ceiling showdown.

The hyper-partisan bickering and the threat of government default in the summer of 2011 led to the unprecedented downgrade of the U.S. credit ratings, costing businesses billions of dollars.

At a press briefing this morning before McConnell’s bill was called for a vote in the Senate, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid sounded hopeful that McConnell’s proposal would help “avoid the knock-down-drag-out debt ceiling battle” by giving the “President the authority to raise the debt”.

(McConnell’s proposal today was similar to the solution he offered during the height of the debt limit debate in July 2011, which was to allow the President to raise the U.S. debt limit unless Congress overrides his decision with a two-thirds majority vote.)

However, Reid’s hopes for a bipartisan compromise evaporated shortly after he called up McConnell’s bill – S. 3664 – for a simple majority vote. McConnell objected and,  in effect, filibustered his own bill by insisting that it must pass with a 60-vote majority.

“Look: the only way we ever cut spending around here is by using the debate over the debt limit to do it. Now the President wants to remove that spur to cut altogether. It gets in the way of his spending plans,” said McConnell. “I assure you: it’s not going to happen. The American people want Washington to get spending under control. And the debt limit is the best tool we have to make the President take that demand seriously.”

McConnell’s reversal infuriated top Democrats.

“Basically, if we had voted, we would have guaranteed that we would not place the country again in a situation of defaulting on our bills,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). “We would send a message that we can work together, that the fact that we were willing to accept the Republican Leader’s proposal, and be willing to send a message that as a Senate that we want to make sure we have fiscal stability, that we’re paying our bills.”

In his floor speech, an incredulous Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) lashed out at McConnell and questioned whether the Republican Leader’s offer was even made in good faith. Below is an excerpt of Durbin’s remarks:
“…What just transpired deserves a word. 

“Senator McConnell came to the floor this morning and offered a change in law that would help us avoid the kind of obstruction and the kind of showdowns that we’ve had in the past over the debt ceiling. 

“In fact, the idea was not new. It was his original idea that has been the law of the land and followed. 

“And he offered and challenged Sen. Reid to bring this matter for consideration in the Senate. Senator Reid just agreed to, said that he would bring this for a vote in 20 minutes and we would decide up or down whether the debt ceiling problem would be resolved once and for all under Senator McConnell’s proposal.

“And then Senator McConnell objected – objected, saying ‘No, no. We need 60 votes.’ For those who don’t follow Senate, 60 votes is the equivalent of a filibuster vote – breaking a filibuster vote.  

“So this may be a moment in Senate history when a Senator made a proposal and when given an opportunity for a vote on that proposal filibustered his own proposal. 

“…It really calls into question whether or not this was the kind of offer that one would consider to be in good faith if Senator Reid offered a vote on it and Senator McConnell said, ‘No, it has to be 60. It has to be a filibuster-proof vote.'” 

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that McConnell “blinked” and “should have trusted his first instincts”, implying that the Republican Senator’s change of heart illustrated a lack of political courage.

Schumer warned Republicans against “using the debt ceiling as leverage, using the debt ceiling as a threat, using the debt ceiling as a way to achieve a different agenda.”

“It’s playing with fire,” said Schumer. “It’s hard to figure out the strategy that he’s employing, but we would hope on this side of the aisle – and I think I speak for all of us – that he would reconsider and perhaps early next week let us vote on his own resolution.”


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