My preferred "last resort" plan in the debt limit fight 

Having blasted the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's "last resort" proposal, I thought I'd offer an alternative contingency plan. The way I see it, members of Congress have an obligation to raise the debt ceiling to accommodate future deficit spending that they already voted for, but nothing beyond that. That would mean, since Congress already approved a 2011 budget that includes deficit spending as part of the  deal to avert a government shut down, they should pass a clean debt limit increase that would take us through the end of the fiscal year, on Sept. 30. If and when Republicans eventually reach a deal on the fiscal 2012 budget, they should then vote to increase the debt limit by the amount of deficit spending that the Congressional Budget Office projects for that year.

Admittedly, there are a number of obstacles to this plan. The most obvious being that it isn't clear if there would be enough votes in Congress, and President Obama has publicly ruled out any short-term deals. Yet as things stand, the McConnell approach has been deemed "dead on arrival" in the House. So if we're talking about "last resort" contingency plans, it's hard to see why this approach would be any less plausible.

If Republicans favor this plan and it encounters opposition from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Obama, that would do several things. It could make Obama start to look intransigent and it would be another opportunity to highlight the fact that the Democratic Senate hasn't even formally released a 2012 budget while the Republican House has done its job and passed one. If there's no agreement about 2012 deficit levels and we don't even have details on Democrats' opening bid, why should Republicans agree to increase the debt limit past the end of this fiscal year? Compared to the McConnell plan, which hinges on arcane Congressional procedure to disguise the fact that Republicans would effectively be voting for a debt limit increase, this would have the advantage of being a clear, transparent, stance that's easy to explain to voters.

Unless the government is going to stay shut down indefinitely, Congress is going to have to pass a 2012 budget eventually. And and that point, it would make sense to extend the debt ceiling through the end of the next fiscal year to accomodate the new deficit spending.

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Philip Klein

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