Senate Democrats to call for 'McConnell rule' on debt ceiling

Greg Nash

A group of Senate Democrats is slated Tuesday to introduce a plan allowing the president to raise the debt ceiling without the approval of Congress — a tactic dubbed the "McConnell Rule."

The plan hinges on a solution devised by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) during the 2011 debt-ceiling standoff that saddled President Obama with ultimate responsibility for raising the limit. It was used again in the deal to raise the debt ceiling and reopen the government earlier this month. 

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While Congress would be able to halt the borrowing increase by a vote of disapproval, it would be subject to a presidential veto and have little chance of gaining the necessary supermajorities to override it. 

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced his plans to introduce the permanent change earlier this month after the nation nearly bumped up against the borrowing deadline set by the Treasury Department. 

He will introduce the legislation with Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer (Calif.) and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) during a Tuesday morning press conference. 

Since a vote to increase the debt ceiling is politically unpopular for many members, especially conservative Republicans, the tactic allows lawmakers to vote against an increase without actually threatening default. 

Schumer's office said in a statement that the legislation "would drastically reduce the chances that the debt ceiling could be used as a political weapon designed to extract policy concessions from the opposing party."

It is unclear whether Republicans would support the measure since it would reduce their disapproval of a debt-limit increase to a largely symbolic vote. The debt-ceiling vote has been used in recent years as a major negotiating tool for Republicans that many would be hard-pressed to give up.  

In 2011, McConnell fashioned the proposal after past measures, and it was included as part of a broader package. In interviews at the time, he said it was designed to make Obama own the debt-limit increase. 

"We thought he ought to own it. It's part of my job to protect my members if I can against having to vote for it," McConnell said at the time in an interview for the book The Price of Politics.